The Screening Room
bolt blu ray
"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 copy.

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 movie.

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 dangerous.

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 roll.

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 face.

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 hopefully, story.      

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: © BVHE. All rights reserved.
Blu-ray Quick Glimpse



An "ok" animated movie from Disney, but I yearn for great Disney storytelling again

Director: Byron Howard
Chris Williams  

Cast: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus 

DVD copy of the feature film, "Making Of," and more


Picture: Excellent
Sound: Excellent

It ain't Pixar

Aspect Ratio (1.85:1)


March 22, 2009
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