The Screening Room
THE STUDIO GATE
"Bolt" shows that no matter how hard Disney tries to make a
computer-based animated movie, it can't seem to hit the mark. The Disney
studio invented the animated feature, and in watching "Bolt," it's sad to
see how far the studio has fallen from grace. Though not a bad movie, it's
not one of those movies Disney fans will want to watch over-and-over again.
“Bolt” is now available on Blu-ray. The DVD arrives March 24. This is a review of the
Blu-ray combo pack which includes a copy on Blu-ray disc, DVD and a digital
If this was a traditionally animated movie with ink & paint, would it still
hold up with its story and characters? Would the story of a devoted
dog and his human companion work? Yes it would. But would the story, with
its inside look at Hollywood actors, directors and inside jokes work? Most
audiences could care less about the Hollywood machine. Kids could care even
less. They just want to be entertained.
The movie borrows a plot idea from one of Disney's own
direct-to-DVD movies, "101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure" (2003).
A dog, in this case Bolt (John Travolta), thinks he's a super hero dog
outside of the movie set. In "Patch's London Adventure," Thunderbolt (Barry
Bostwick) thinks the same of himself. I'm not sure which movie had been in
development for longer, but the parallels were very similar. "Bolt" diverges
with the relationship between Bolt and his human, Penny (Miley Cyrus).
"Bolt" represents what has been going wrong with Disney Animation for years
now. It's forgettable entertainment with little, if nothing, of the charm
and staying power of previous Disney efforts. The studio figured they ought
to concentrate on computer animation, because that's where the future was.
They jettisoned traditional animation for the latest technology. They blamed their failures on traditional animation,
rather than poor storytelling. At the time,
they were playing catch-up with Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. What they
forgot, especially compared to Pixar, was that story is paramount. The
technology is only there to help tell the story, not overwhelm it. I'm sure
that Disney had a lot of faith in this movie. Too bad the change in
filmmakers during production didn't bring in much needed energy to the
The story of a devoted dog and his human is as old as the movies. It's a
story that works. But "Bolt" relies on too many movie industry jokes and
jabs that we end up caring little for what happens next. No one in the
audience really cares about a director who tries nailing the next great
shot. No one can really identify with Penny. Her character isn't really
fleshed out. I didn't get a sense of real emotional attachment between Bolt
& Penny. And Bolt isn't all that charming. Sure he's determined to find
Penny at all costs, but his roadtrip to get to her isn't compelling or
The storyline takes the safe route, never trying to branch out and try new
things. The thin plot with its simplistic ideas and senimentality doesn't
help, either. Once again, Disney has allowed for too many quirky characters
to invade the story. I couldn't remember which character was which. You've
got the stereotypical New Yorkers, played by pigeons. There's a psychotic
hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton) who acts crazy for laughs, but he's not
all that funny. You've got another stereotypical wise New York cat in
Mittens (Susie Essman). Didn't we learn our lesson that trying to hard to be
cute and hip just doesn't work for a Disney animated movie? "Chicken Little"
(2005), and "Meet the Robinsons" (2007) come to mind.
I'm sure this was a tough production to make, as its original director,
Chris Sanders, left the project. With "Lilo & Stitch," he crafted a good
story. Whatever was leftover in the scrap pile on "Bolt" was taped and glued
back together. Though I sound harsh in my criticism of this movie, it's not
bad. It just doesn't wow me and it doesn't stick with me once the credits
The animation is good, but I found it still looks too computerized and
sterile. "Kung Fu Panda" and "Wall-E" have shown that computer animation can
appear plausible and more natural now than it did in the era of "Antz." For
me, the animation still doesn't look as good as traditional ink & paint. The
problem with Bolt himself is that he's not a lovable looking character. He
appears too doughy and pasty.
What Disney should do in the future is scrap the words "computer animated"
and "3-D" from its in-house vocabulary. They should open up their climate
controlled animation library and archives and go back in time and discover
what made most Disney animated movies great.
There are reasons why people still buy and still watch Walt Disney's early
animated features; story, characters and music you believe in. You fall for
the fantasy. When I spoke with Alice Davis, a Disney Legend and wife of
animator Marc Davis, she told me that one of the reasons why Walt's films
worked was due to his desire to make his films timeless. Though he'd
encourage his animators to try new things and reinvent themselves, he
centered his films on core story values, characters we love and love to
hate, and music that was timeless. Yes, some of the films Walt produced
weren't always perfect. But Walt's strengths in telling a great story
usually ran over any mediocre work he produced. Even a "modern" tale like
"101 Dalmatians" still holds up today. "Bolt" won't last through next year.
The Blu-ray is excellent in every regard concerning picture and sound
quality. I think it looks much better than it did digitally projected in
3-D. With the highly touted "Disney Digital 3-D," wearing the glasses gave
me a headache and I found the glasses muted the colors and sharpness of the
image. The Blu-ray presents the movie as it was originally conceived: 2-D.
The soundtrack is aggressive and loud. The action sequences are mixed loud,
just like in a standard action movie. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is
very clean and even if you don't enjoy the movie, some of the action
sequences will test your sound system and might even bring a smile to your
Disney was once the dominant force in animation, even in its own rough years
in the 1970s through the mid-1980s. But now it's stumbled. The only reason
why the animated studio has survived is due to its brand name, not the
movies it has recently made. Disney was once the crown jewel of animation,
and I wish in my heart-of-hearts it'll return to its glory.
It's been playing catch up for years. I suppose there's some hope in "The
Princess and the Frog," a movie that goes back to traditional animation and
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © BVHE. All
Blu-ray Quick Glimpse
An "ok" animated movie from Disney, but I
yearn for great Disney storytelling again
Director: Byron Howard
Cast: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus
DVD copy of the feature film, "Making Of,"
It ain't Pixar
Aspect Ratio (1.85:1)
DTS-HD MA 7.1
BLU-RAY RELEASE DATE
March 22, 2009