ANIMATION & VISUALS
- The film overall has a very clean, high quality look to the computer visuals. The lighting is decent. The human models are decent-good with Penny having the best looking human model. The environments are about the same quality as the human models. Fortunately, the best looking elements in the film are the animals. Mitten's and the pigeon's models/animations are excellent. Still, at times there are strange disconnects between the believability of the animal animations when they performed human actions/gesticulations.
- The action scene at the beginning is very well designed and directed. The direction/cinematography was very good throughout the whole film actually. It's nothing too creative, but still nicely done.
PLOT & STORY
- Plot wise Bolt falls far short of Pixar/Ghibli films. To give a quick breakdown of how I rank major animation studios' films it goes Pixar/Ghibli > Disney > Dream Works > Animal Logic (the creators of Happy Feet). Bolt starts off with a very unique premise. A super dog that's only super on film gets out in the real world. This premise sets the stage for wonderful themes like illusion vs. reality vs perception. Unfortunately, the themes that the film does use are poorly developed dragging down the film's story into Animal Logic quality.
- One of the biggest problems I have with the story is the weak characterization. Bolt is the main character. Like I said before, his most unique action in the film is only expressed in the world of Bolt the TV show. Outside of that show, he's a regular dog. After he gets lost, his main actions are centered around getting back home to Penny. The other other major decision he makes is to go rescue Mittens, a choice that Bolt doesn't think twice about doing. (Yes, he doubts his ability to rescue her, but this is after he made the decision to do it). Bolt, like the audience perhaps, assumes that rescuing Mittens from the pound is a given. What we're left with is a character who has no action that works toward solving a central problem or uncovering a key theme. What's worse is that the other main characters Mittens and Rhino are even more shallow than Bolt creating terrible foils.
- I get the feeling that like Dreamworks' writing/characterization style, Disney simply found real work acting/voice talent and molded their characters around that. This is a neat approach but I find that it's ultimately harder to make a substantive plot this way. Kung Fu Panda and the Shrek sequels suffer from this approach.
SPACE, TIME, & OTHER DETAILS
- Bolt is like the 1993 Disney film Homeward Bound without the respect of space and time. In the middle of the film the Bolt crew travel all over the place pretty easily. I know that montages are used to compress time, however the middle of the film moved through so many locations so easily it's as if the animal were humans in a vehicle on a road trip. The sense of scale of the small animals or the large country side never created any real problems in the plot. Areas were passed through quickly, and any kind of natural transportation conflicts were glossed over. I don't know how many times I can watch Bolt jump off of a moving vehicle and walk it off as if it never happened.
- As part of the characterization problem, the writing of the film seems to lack an attention to detail. Like in Up, a sub par Pixar film, details are seemingly set up only to be abandoned. Mittens the cat rules the pigeons using a fear of her claws, yet in the film we never see her claws or her use fear to intimidate Bolt at all. So that particular bit of characterization falls flat. One would think that ruling by fear yet having no real claws would be a neat way to support a theme of illusion vs reality.
- The little details were missing and the plot holes were plenty. How did rhino escape from the trailer before he first meets Bolt? How did the studio catch on fire? Why did all the people just abandon Penny when the fire erupted? How did Bolt convince Penny and/or her Mom to keep Mittens and Rhino? These may seem like nitpicks, but the whole plot didn't take itself seriously enough for me to give it the benefit of the doubt.
- Rhino the hamster is a hyper internet geek type character. Though I found his extreme mobility and strenth (especially when pushing the latter) hilarious, his character is flat. If he's the comical character, I think that role is weakened due to the fact that the whole film is filled with comedic elements. Just about every character tries to be funny. So when Rhino takes to the scene, he really has a small impact on the film as a whole.
- The overall plot is derivative of many other more classic, established, or cliche plots. Unfortunately, Bolt uses these conventions to develop a story without adding key scenes/elements that pull them all together. In other words, the film goes through the motions of a well developed story without the substance. The actions of the characters are not meaningful to the themes, space-time is either cheated or poorly used, and the final rescue/happy ending are not smoothly lead into. By the end I questioned what was happening and why I was supposed to care.
- The themes of being caged up/restricted, abandoned, being "real" (ie. Bolt being a real dog), and believing in something real or fake are not incorporated into any of the plot challenges. Getting back to Penny was the main challenge to followed up by rescuing her from a fire. Neither of these obstacles hold any meaning to the aforementioned themes. Therefore, the action and visual storytelling of the film has a major disconnect with themes and characters.
- This disconnect is the largest when Mittens teaches Bolt how to be a real dog. So she was abandoned by her original owners. Who cares? Does that make her an expert on house dogs. And if she wanted Bolt to live with her on the streets, then what do all of the domestic details matter? Convincing Bolt to live like a real dog isn't strongly connected with convincing him that he needs to give up on Penny. The important dialog scenes between Bolt and Mittens/Rhino are forced as if the writers were trying to force the pieces of the plot together with familiar conventions.
Overall Bolt is a quirky movie with a good start, lackluster middle, and a poor ending. Because it has little substance, it gets worse the more I think about it. For an instant watch Netflix flim, it's great. Just put it on in the background as you play a puzzle game.