by D.W. Lundberg

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Our continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries are also included below.

Title: Bolt (2007)

The Plot: The canine star of a weekly sci-fi TV show, convinced that his superpowers are real, embarks on a cross-country journey to find his "kidnapped" master, with a stray cat and a hamster in tow.

The Songs: "I Thought I Lost You" (performed by Miley Cyrus & John Travolta), "Barking At The Moon" (performed by Jenny Lewis)

A Little History: Originally titled American Dog, written and directed by Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch), about a dog (and TV personality) named Henry who is stranded in the Nevada desert with a one-eyed cat and a radioactive rabbit as his only companions. Disney/Pixar chief John Lasseter viewed a rough cut of Sanders' film and gave extensive notes on how to improve it. Sanders, however, reportedly hated the changes and was soon booted from the project (he and partner Dean Dublois then relocated to DreamWorks, to direct How To Train Your Dragon instead). Chris Williams (story artist for The Emperor's New Groove) and Byron Howard (supervising animator for Brother Bear) were hired as replacement directors, and on June 8, 2007, Disney announced Bolt for a target November 21, 2008, release date. Inspired by the work of cinematographers Gordon Willis (The Godfather) and Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind), art director Paul Felix and lighting director Adolph Lusinsky gave the film a more painterly, textural quality than is common for CG-animated features. (Lusinsky: "For example, with computers it's possible to show bricks on a building going back to infinity; you can count every single brick. In our film, you might see the first few bricks on a wall really clearly, but once you go back 30 feet, it might become very abstracted to a simpler read. This was a completely different approach than [we'd] taken before.") Bolt himself is a mix of several different dog breeds; character designer Joe Moshier was especially taken by the long ears of the American White Shepherd, and emphasized this trait to make the character more expressive. Mittens the cat was originally called "Mister Mittens" (because her masters never bothered to learn her actual gender); the animators adopted an actual hamster named Doink to study how Rhino the hamster would move in his plexiglass ball. Actress Chloë Grace Moretz was cast as the voice of Penny until Miley Cyrus expressed interest in the part; Cyrus also co-wrote the end title duet, "I Thought I Lost You," which she sings with John Travolta (Bolt). The song was nominated for a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, but lost both times to Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" (from The Wrestler [2008]). During its run in theaters, Bolt grossed $309.9 million in worldwide ticket sales. The film was re-titled Volt for its Russian release, since the word "bolt" is often used as a slang term for the male sex organ in that country.

How It Broke New Ground: NPR (non-photorealistic rendering) technology was developed specifically for the film, to give it a softer, hand-painted look than most CG-animated films. Also the first animated Disney feature (produced in-house) to be conceived and produced in 3D (both Chicken Little and Meet The Robinsons were post-converted to the format). The Blu-Ray for Bolt was released on March 22, 2009, which also included DVD and digital copies of the film. The standard DVD was released separately two days later, marking the first time a Region 1 Blu-Ray disc debuted before its stand- alone DVD counterpart.

How It Holds Up Today: A perfectly pleasant way to pass the time between Pixar films - light, bright, consistently heartfelt, and refreshingly short on pop-culture jokes and references. You could argue, of course, that the entire movie is one giant meta- joke, like a canine Truman Show crossed with Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey plus a bit of Buzz Lightyear to boot. But while parents may suffer from déjà vu, kids will love its propulsive energy and pinwheeling plot, which is quick to point out the difference between being "super" and embracing your inner self. (Cars did the same thing, too, and with equal cornpone sincerity.) A note on the animation: producer Clark Spencer says on the DVD bonus features that "if we've done our job correctly, you're actually looking and following the story and the characters, and not paying attention to the rest of the world," and it's amazing, if you pause any shot on your remote, how you don't really notice the painterly quality of the backgrounds until you really stop to look at them. The same goes for Bolt's breathless opening sequence, steeped in the same dark hues and frenetic action as your average Jerry Bruckheimer flick, and a sure sign that Disney would do well to invest in action films, should they ever get the inkling.

Grade: B

DEDICATED in loving memory to Digi C. Lundberg, the sweetest, humblest, most loyal companion a family could ever have. We're sure gonna miss you, bud.


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