51 Days of Disney (Day 48): Bolt

Bolt (John Travolta) is the dog superhero star of the biggest show on TV, which makes him one of the biggest stars, the problem is that he doesn’t even know it. The director of the show believes in full method acting for the dog, making him think that his owner and co-star, Penny (Miley Cyrus), is constantly in danger from the evil Dr. Calico (Malcom McDowell). A woman from the network tells the director that the show’s formula has become stagnant, so they need to make it so that things get changed up in the show. The most recent episode ends with a cliff-hanger with Penny getting kidnapped by Dr. Calico and this sends Bolt into a frenzy looking for her. He ends up running off and falling into a shipping box and gets sent to New York.

Bolt eventually teams up with a stray cat named Mittens and a hamster named Rhino, who happens to be Bolt’s biggest fan, to get back to Hollywood and his precious Penny. Throughout the journey, Bolt notices that his powers are gone, he rationalizes this by the packing peanuts he finds on him and thinks that they sapped his power. Back in Hollywood, the director convinces Penny to continue filming with a Bolt lookalike, but Penny can’t handle it. Will Bolt get back to Penny? Find out when you watch the movie.

Bolt is both the first film in the Disney Animated Canon to have the new Walt Disney Pictures intro, but also the new Walt Disney Animation Studios intro. I love both of them so much, but I find it really interesting that the castle in the Walt Disney Pictures intro is an amalgamation of Sleeping Beauty Castle and Cinderella Castle. If you look closely at some of the towers and architectural forms, you can see pieces of each castle combined into one.

Bolt was originally conceived as American Dog and was going to be directed by Chris Sanders, and originally had a very different story. The story was originally about a famous TV star dog named Henry who gets stranded in a Nevada desert with a one-eyed cat and an oversized radioactive rabbit. The three look for new homes while Henry still thinks that he is on TV. When John Lasseter was brought on as executive producer, he and various Pixar and Disney directors viewed some early cuts of the film and offered Sanders some notes on how to improve the story, but Sanders resisted accepting the suggestions and was summarily removed from the project. Lasseter was quoted as saying:

Chris Sanders is extremely talented, but he couldn’t take it to the place it had to be.

The film would have been exceptionally different if Chris Sanders had been left on the project and would have probably been much closer in tone and general quirkiness to Lilo and Stitch, but the film would have ended up being more like some of the Disney films of the early to mid 2000’s that were trying to break the mold of what Disney was known for rather than trying to bring the more back to it’s roots. I really wish that Disney and Sanders could have come to some sort of agreement, as Chris Sanders would not have left the studio and I would have loved to have seen American Dog.

In the spirit of bringing the studio back, Bolt is all about the story. The reworked story is very strong and emotionally resonant with some exceptionally fun moments and great writing. The interactions between Bolt and Mittens are brisk and funny and really play off of the delusional nature of Bolt closer to the beginning of the film. Even Rhino, who had the possibility of being very annoying, comes off as being funny and endearing. The voice acting even got better with the revamping of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. John Travolta and Miley Cyrus have pretty distintive voices, but they managed to be relatively subdued in this film. I despise Miley Cyrus, but I actually enjoyed her voice acting in Bolt.

The animation in Bolt was done in an almost photo-realistic CG rendering, which looks stunning, but what really makes it special is the fact that Disney managed to adapt the soft style that the studio is known for into 3D animation. The film manages to look like a traditional Disney film, but also not look like one.

Bolt is a fun addition to the Disney canon that has both a foot in the future and a foot in the past of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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