Friday, March 27, 2015

BOLT (2008)

RELEASE DATE: Friday 21st November 2008

After director Chris Sanders had some success with his film Lilo and Stitch, he started work on his next project, which was going to be called "American Dog." Like Lilo and Stitch, this would be a very quirky and oddball movie about a dog who didn't realise he was on a T.V. show and ended up travelling all across the U.S.A. with a one-eyed cat named Ogo.

Many fans of Sanders's work waited in anticipation for what was sure to be a hilarious madcap road movie. Those same fans were horrified when they learned that John Lasseter had removed Sanders from his own project.

Rumour has it that Lasseter, who had recently been appointed as head-of-animation at Disney, found American Dog to be too quirky. He offered Sanders a list of things that needed to change, but Sanders refused to have someone else decide the outcome of his baby. (Remember with Lilo and Stitch, Sanders and his team were left mostly to their own devices over in Florida) Tensions arose and Sanders was fired.

What then, to make of the film already in production...? Lasseter immediately put Chris Williams and Byron Howard to work on reimagining American Dog; keeping some of the core concepts but essentially creating a whole new movie. The result was Bolt, released at the end of 2008.

Chris Sanders jumped ship to Dreamworks and found huge success with his next movie, How To Train Your Dragon. Meanwhile, the little eye-patched cat Ogo made somewhat of a comeback in Sanders's short-lived online comic strip Kiskaloo.

The movie begins in flashback, where a painfully adorable white puppy is about to be adopted by a little girl named Penny.

Five years later, and the dog (whose name is now Bolt) and Penny are a dynamic crime-fighting duo! They are hunted down by goons across the city, but they fight on, determined to find Penny's captive father. Bolt himself has all manner of super-dog powers at his disposal.

Then when the scene is over, Bolt is taken back to his trailer and the director yells "Cut!" Unbeknown to Bolt, he is the star of a television show. When a new executive is brought on to the show, she is told of how imperative it is that Bolt believes that everything is happening for real. She is not convinced.

That night some cats taunt Bolt in his trailer. They find it hilarious that he takes the story of the T.V. show seriously.

The next day during filming, Bolt manages to escape. Convinced that Penny has been kidnapped, he frantically tries to track her down, but ends up being shut up in a box of packing foam and shipped to the other side of the country!

Lost and confused, Bolt wanders New York City looking for answers. The local pigeons suggest that an alleycat called Mittens can get him home. Bolt, who hates all cats, threatens Mittens and she has no choice but to go with him.

And so begins the westward trek across the U.S.A... Mittens finds it laughable that Bolt thinks he's a super-dog, but Bolt refuses to listen to a cat who is likely evil. When they both realise how hungry they are, Mittens teaches Bolt some trade secrets on how to get food from people in caravans... Just look adorable!

In one caravan is a T.V.-obsessed hamster named Rhino. When he sees Bolt he instantly recognises him from the T.V. show and geeks out at meeting his hero! He begs to come along and be Bolt's sidekick. The trio continue on their cross-country voyage.

Meanwhile back in Hollywood, Penny has been searching everywhere for her lost dog, but the production company can no longer wait. They find a replacement dog to fill Bolt's role on the show.

While trying to prove that his super-bark is real, Bolt attracts the attention of a dog-catcher, and both he and Mittens are thrown into a van headed straight for the pound.

Rhino realises that this is his moment to shine! He sets out on a dangerous mission, determined to rescue his hero! As the rain falls and begins to wash off Bolt's makeup, he comes to understand that Mittens was telling the truth all along; he has no superpowers. He's just an ordinary dog. Feeling guilty for Mittens's capture, he and Rhino head off to rescue her.

At the pound, Rhino causes a commotion while Bolt breaks Mittens out. They escape triumphantly.

Now that they have a new understanding, Mittens decides to teach Bolt how to be a real dog during the next leg of the road trip.

When they reach Las Vegas, Mittens gives Bolt a new alternative. They could live here! She tells him that he doesn't need Penny. Bolt will not be swayed, however. He carries on to Hollywood alone.

After getting directions from some Californian pigeons, Bolt races back to his studio, only to witness Penny hugging his replacement. His little doggy heart breaks.

During filming, the poor replacement dog gets spooked and accidentally starts a fire in the studio. Penny is trapped. The real Bolt races to her rescue. With no way out and breathing becoming more and more difficult, Bolt makes a last-ditch effort to get some attention. With the last of his strength, he super-barks up through the air vent.

After a desperate rescue, Penny's mother decides then-and-there that Penny and Bolt quit showbusiness. Some time later, Penny and her mother spend the day playing with Bolt, as well as their new pets Mittens and Rhino.

IRVYNE: Like with Chicken Little, I really wanted to hate this film when it was first released. Not only was Disney once again trying to make contemporary C.G.I. films instead of hand-drawn classics, but the whole situation of firing Chris Sanders kind of infuriated me. Suddenly the off-the-wall quirky designs were replaced with generic-looking computer-animated animals.
Fortunately, the film turned out quite okay. In fact, it's pretty good. It still doesn't feel like a Disney movie, but it's an enjoyable watch. The three lead animals are all good, although I find Mittens to be a bit annoying for half of the movie. She is the realist, and her sarcastic New York manner can be grating. I'm happy to say that once the film gets to the heart of her character, she becomes much more likeable, and you want to see her find a nice home as well.
Rhino is hilarious. This tiny little animal has an enormous personality! He was even given a mini-sequel movie called Super Rhino which was included in the D.V.D. / Blu-Ray releases.

Considering how difficult the years of its development were, it's amazing that it all turned into something quite watchable. Still nowhere near Disney at its best, but it's okay.

Even though a lot of the characters (the humans in particular) look pretty generic, the animation on the leads is really great. Bolt himself is hugely expressive, and if people watching this film for the first time don't say "Awwwww" at least once, they must be a dog-hater.
There's a number of interesting new filters in use that give the lighting a very realistic feel. Since this movie is set in the real world, this definitely works to its advantage.  Even though there's not much in the artwork that particularly stands out as amazing, it's really a very accomplished piece of animation.

Keeping to the trend of the era, Bolt is not a musical. There are two original songs in the movie, but they are pretty meh. I have to admit, having Miley Cyrus (Penny) and John Travolta (Bolt) sing a duet for the song over the end credits is a nice idea, even if the song isn't anything special. ("I Thought I Lost You") The other song is called "Barking At The Moon," and it plays over the montage of Bolt learning to be a real dog. It's a cute little song, but again, you won't be humming it as you walk away from seeing the movie.
The score by John Powell is perfectly fine without being memorable in any real way. Bolt's music isn't bad, but it's just kind of there.

Bolt is a good animated movie. I wouldn't say it's a great Disney movie though. Does it belong in the collection? Sure. Do I enjoy watching it? Yeah, definitely. But it's not an all-time classic like those films of the Disney Golden Age or Renaissance.

SHENZI: N'awwww, the widdaw puppy is so cute!

WENDY: Rapunzel and I both thought it was better than we were expecting.

IRVYNE: So it was first time viewing for you?

MERRYWEATHER: Yes, and me too.

JOHN DARLING: It was my third time.

MICHAEL DARLING: My second time!

MALEFICENT: I'm not a fan. I hated it so much when I first saw it. While I don't hate it as much now as I did then, I think the story, the characters and the animation are all a bit "blah."

WENDY: This movie is like "Look Who's Talking" backwards, because Bolt is played by John Travolta.

RAPUNZEL: At the start I had an automatic dislike for Penny because she's voiced by Miley Cyrus.

IRVYNE: At least Penny wasn't twerking!

WENDY: I kind of wish I didn't know, because I find the character quite sweet.

IRVYNE: Mittens is a pretty unlikeable character until right at the end. She's just a wet blanket on everything. But then you find out she was hurt.

MERRYWEATHER: It's a coping mechanism.

RAPUNZEL: I almost cried three times in this movie!

MERRYWEATHER: I love the scene where Mittens teaches Bolt how to be cute. "Just tilt your head a little."

IRVYNE: Imagine how much study they must have done on adorable dogs to get that right.

HAKU: They got that SO right. It's hilarious.

WENDY: And what do they say to Mittens?

IRVYNE: "Beat it, stupid cat!" Haha. There's no respect for the poor cats.

SHENZI: I love the opening action sequence. It's so cool!

JOHN DARLING: It starts off a bit like Roger Rabbit, in that it's a T.V. show being filmed.

SHENZI: It's a bit like The Truman Show.

RAPUNZEL: There are a few moments that made me think of Toy Story 2 and 3.

IRVYNE: Yeah, Mittens being the unwanted pet is somewhat reminiscent of Jessie being the unwanted toy.

MERRYWEATHER: It's a story about responsible pet ownership.

SHENZI: And a cat and a dog being friends!... with a sidekick hamster!

WENDY: I thought Rhino was going to be a painful character, but he's actually okay.
RAPUNZEL: He's equally cute and creepy.

IRVYNE: He is a bit of a celebrity stalker. I like him though. He acts out all of the ultra-ultimate-fanboy fantasies. You know which character I absolutely HATE? (which is intentional, because he's supposed to be appalling) The agent guy. I can't believe it takes the mother so long to punch him out.

RAPUNZEL: He's such a fantastic example of agents, only out for himself. Evil to the core! But I kind of love him because he's so perfect in that role. I find the movie's pacing to be good.
IRVYNE: Really? I feel like it sags in the middle a bit. In the lead-up to the big finale scenes, it loses a lot of its fun and becomes quite heavy and emotional.

WENDY: I feel like it's a bit patronising showing the map. We KNOW they're travelling across the U.S.A., we don't need to see it.

IRVYNE: Little kids might need a bit more of a visual though. Speaking of kids, I'm a little surprised that Bolt is rated G. That fire scene at the end is intense. I reckon I would have found that quite scary if I saw this as a kid!

HAKU: I'm a bit concerned that the Hollywood studio doesn't have fire sprinklers...

IRVYNE: Good point. I wonder what the water tower is for!

MICHAEL DARLING: It's cool how the fire is real, not just a part of a T.V. show.

JOHN DARLING: Wait a minute... it is a T.V. show. We just watching it on T.V.!

IRVYNE: Mind... blown...

WENDY: I laughed a lot at the throwaway "Nemo" reference!

IRVYNE: I love how the New York and Californian pigeons have their different accents.
HAKU: In terms of the visuals, I really like the way the backgrounds are painted.

IRVYNE: So out of Disney's early C.G. era - that's Chicken Little, Meet The Robinsons and this one, what order would you put them? I think I could safely say we'd all put Chicken Little down the bottom, wouldn't we?

WENDY: I think I like this one better than Meet The Robinsons because I was absorbed.

RAPUNZEL: I wasn't bored for any of it. Loved it from start to finish.

MICHAEL DARLING: I haven't seen Chicken Little.


IRVYNE: Personally I prefer the Robinsons over Bolt. It's more fun and it's got a lot more personality. But Bolt is actually a lot better than it has a right to be...

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