In any other year, Bolt would have won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, hands down. However, Wall-E was such an undeniably unique movie, it was impossible to deny the filmmakers the Oscar they received. By comparison, the story of a dog trying to save its owner has been done thousands of times in live-action films. What makes Bolt unique is the way directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard chose to tell a pretty basic story.
Bolt (John Travolta), is a crime-fighting wonder dog who regularly risks life and limb to protect his owner Penny (Miley Cyrus), from a mad scientist named Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell), the Green-Eyed Man, and his evil cat. The whole thing really feels like a James Bond adventure starring a dog. It’s amazing how realistically the Bond-like opening plays out and when Bolt uses his “super bark” the special effects are worthy of any live-action superhero movie.

BoltHowever, Bolt has no idea is daily life is being filmed, in a scenario similar to The Truman Show. The director (James Lipton) takes great pains to hide boom mikes and cameras on dollies so that the dog brings a kind of urgent realism that’s never before been seen on television. Unfortunately for the dog, that means being locked up like a prisoner inside his trailer after each day’s shooting, rather than going home with Penny. But when the director takes some heat from the network because the 20-somethings aren’t tuning in and he tries a cliffhanger, Bolt escapes, thinking it urgent that he rescue Penny from the Green-Eyed Man.
Encountering the real world for the first time, our hero comes to some stark realizations; the real world has robbed him of his super powers. Bolt captures a cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) he believes is an agent for Dr. Calico. He also gets some help from his biggest fan; a hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton) and becomes even more determined to save Penny.
Bolt takes off on a journey with Mittens as a kind of hostage and his friend Rhino in his exercise ball for assistance. These characters have enough energy and personality to hold the audiences interest and plenty of fun lines that will appeal to adults. Further, the filmmakers wisely create situations that become major plot points later. Here’s an example: As Bolt breaks out of his trailer and sees what he thinks is the “throne” of Dr. Calico pulling away from him, he tries to crash into a window but only bounces backwards into an open shipping box topped with Styrofoam peanuts. Cleverly, those packing peanuts are incorporated into the script as the equivalent of Kryptonite. Searching for an explanation as to why he can no longer pick up a car with his mouth, crash through brick walls with his head, super-leap, super-bark, or karate chop humans with a well-placed blow to the collarbone, Bolt decides that the Styrofoam must have weakened him. Perfect!
The voice work is first rate, the characters are engaging and the journey itself is full of enough surprises to keep it interesting. The animation is excellent but lacks that special ‘magic’ Pixar seems to give us each and every film. Aside from that minor quibble, Bolt still manages to rise above most animated fare by presenting a story with genuine heart and soul.
Anyone who wants to compare picture quality between the Blu-ray and DVD doesn’t have to go any farther than this three-disc set, which includes the film and bonus features in Hi-Def on a Blu-ray disc, the same film and features on a DVD, and a digital copy of the film for transfer to portable media. Picture quality is great for each, but there’s considerably more 3-D effect with the Blu-ray and the colors seem just a little sharper and more vivid, with more breathtaking detail. In other words, the Blu-ray has the wow factor with all sorts of pop to it, while the DVD has a clear picture with a minimum of grain. The film is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and I noticed no problems whatsoever with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50-gig disc.
Disney has built in an almost aggressive use of the rear speakers to bring them in on virtually every scene, and the result is a true surround-sound experience rather than the occasional ambient sounds that remind us the rear speakers are still connected. Disney went with an English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (48 kHz/24-bit) to achieve this, with a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 for an alternate soundtrack and subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
Bolt has a fairly standard slate of special features:
BD-Live Functionality: As is seemingly-standard for all Disney animated Blu-ray releases now, Bolt offers several online exclusives. Movie Chat allows you to create text-based viewing experiences with friends, Movie Mail gives you the opportunity to distribute personalized voice messages that have been superimposed over top of pre-selected film clips, Movie Challenge is a competitive trivia game that runs alongside the movie, and Disney Movie Rewards Live gives you activity-based points to use to redeem content like Avatars, downloadable extras, and more.
Act, Speak! The Voices of Bolt (HD, 10 minutes): The best and most extensive behind-the-scenes featurette on the disc takes a look at a variety of recording sessions with key members of the cast, as well as comments from the directors and executive producer John Lasseter.
Creating the World of Bolt (HD, 7 minutes): An all-too-short exploration of the various stylistic choices, design decisions, and artistic techniques that produced the film’s painterly visuals.
A New Breed of Directors, A Filmmakers’ Journey: (HD, 5 minutes): Rookie directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard discuss the project, their vision, and the ongoing themes they tried to massage into the film.
Super Rhino (HD, 5 minutes): This bonus animated short finds our lovable ball-dwelling hamster being blessed with superpowers and tasked with rescuing Penny and Bolt from the clutches of the evil Dr. Calico.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 7 minutes): As usual, the cuts in this collection are presented with storyboards.
Bolt’s Be-Awesome Mission (HD): A three-level, interactive arcade game exclusive to the Blu-ray edition of the film.
Bolt Galleries (HD): The disc also includes four exclusive art and photo galleries that cover the film’s character designs, visual development, storyboards, and more.
I Thought I Lost You (HD, 2 minutes): A music video featuring the song of the same name, as performed by John Travolta and Miley Cyrus.
• In Session With John Travolta and Miley Cyrus (HD, 1 minute): A brief visit to the actors’ recording session for “I Thought I Lost You.”
Bonus Standard Definition Copy of the Film: Don’t have a Blu-ray player in every room of the house? No worries, Disney has included a DVD disc for any SD TVs you still use.
Digital Copy of the Film