When is a Pixar film not a Pixar film? Apparently, when it falls under the Walt Disney Animation banner. As the first film to come from the studio's label after Pixar chief John Lasseter took over as its chief creative office, 'Bolt' falls somewhere in-between Pixar's more modern, story-driven masterpieces and the more traditional and sentimental pap that Disney churned out during it's floundering late-'90s period. I don't know if Lasseter tried to ensure that Pixar remain the top dog of the animation world by intentionally leaving 'Bolt' a flawed hybrid of sensibilities, but he's still made sure it's a well-crafted and wholly entertaining enough adventure that Disney's trust hasn't been misplaced.
'Bolt' opens strongly and, aside from a mediocre conclusion that gets mired in mawkish pandering, rarely lets up on the action or the laughs. The plot is surprisingly post-modern, and quite adult in its references and satire. Bolt (John Travolta) is a superpowered dog whose is the star of his own hit primetime TV show, and who truly believes his fictionalized powers are real. As the tale kicks off, Bolt, along with his owner Penny (Miley Cyrus), is on the run from the dastardly Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) and his henchmen. But all is not what it seems and, typical of 'Bolt's very smart and clever twists and turns, we soon discover a much larger plot is afoot -- as the series' director (James Lipton) is really trying to keep Bolt "method" for an upcoming show's kidnapping storyline. But when Bolt discovers the ruse, he takes charge, charging off in search of his owner,and to reclaim his true identity and embrace reality.
Walt Disney once said of his studio's films, "for every laugh, there should be a tear." Lasseter has embraced this belief wholeheartedly as well, and if 'Bolt' isn't as inspired as Pixar's best, it certainly delivers almost non-stop. What is impressive is that the film juggles three different themes, storylines, and tones, and does at least two of them pretty darn well. 'Bolt' is a pretty rousing action movie (many of these scenes are so well-constructed and visualized they rival a live-action blockbuster), as well as a highly-amusing and witty satire on Hollywood excess (adults will enjoy 'Bolt' as much as children). Unfortunately, it also falls a bit too easily into schmaltz with it's attempt to turn Bolt into an almost existential hero-dog. I could have done without a slightly-too-preachy climax which urges the film's young viewers to denounce the delusions of fame and commercialism that Hollywood so often exploits (um, hello, Disney?), though the relationships Bolt forms (particularly with Penny) remain heartfelt.
'Bolt' is also fun because it co-opts the structure of a road movie and grafts it on a family-friendly, CGI-drenched visual panorama. The film takes some very fun narrative detours along the way, with Bolt running into the expected charming animal companions, particularly the sarcastic cat Mittens (Susie Essman) and a hilarious, rotund hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton). Mix this in with some rather sharp animation that combines traditional hand-drawn and photographic elements with straight CGI, and the result is a very picturesque (sublime even) portrait of Americana filtered through the sensibilities of both old-school Disney and post-modern Pixar.
Which is why, for me, 'Bolt' only falters by going a bit too Disney in the end. It's odd that a film that's smart enough to channel 'The Truman Show' as much as 'Ratatouille' ends up starting to feel a tad too much like a bad sequel to The Rescuers' by the end. I admired, and thoroughly enjoyed, so much of 'Bolt' -- the story, the characters, the look and the fine work by the voice cast -- that I longed for a conclusion that was a bit less didactic. But that's OK. Lasseter has proved with 'Bolt' that he can elevate Disney Animation to levels it hasn't reached in many a year, while still making sure that Pixar -- for the moment, at least -- doesn't have anything to worry about.
Walt Disney presents 'Bolt' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (1.78:1). It's a terrific presentation -- pixel perfect, in fact. I'd be hard-pressed to find a better Blu-ray released so far this year. (Note that Disney released 'Bolt' in 3-D for some theatrical showings. Only a 2-D version is offered here.)
I found the image flawless. A direct digital-to-digital conversion, the source is pristine, with excellent blacks and bold contrast. The color palette is incredibly bright and well-saturated, with striking primaries and great clarity to even the finest gradations. Typical of great CGI animation, the image is wonderfully detailed, dripping depth and sharp as a tack. The encode also suffers no arrows, with a smooth and noise-free appearance and no obvious artifacts or edge enhancement. I simply could not find anything wrong with this transfer -- it's 5 out of 5.
Easily matching the video, this DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround is wonderfully alive and aggressive.
'Bolt' comes alive from the first frame, with wonderfully active surrounds that deliver a nicely sustained, 360-degree soundfield almost throughout. Pans are excellent in their tightness and seamlessness, and even minor atmosphere and score bleed is near-constant. Action scenes are as nicely done as the exterior locales,immersive, well-designed and executed. A wholly studio-constructed soundtrack, dynamic range is wide and full-bodied across the entire spectrum. Low bass reaches deep. This is a terrific, five-star soundtrack.
A barely-passable package of supplements is offered. It's a bit thin in the depth department, but it will probably be enough for the film's target audience. All video materials look great, too, and are presented in 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 or MPEG-2 video.
Disc One (Blu-ray)
Disc Two (DVD)
Disc Three (DVD)
'Bolt' surprised me. My expectations were admittedly low, but this is a fast-paced, funny, and sometimes inspired little adventure and a nice piss-take on Hollywood. It may not be ultimate-Pixar stuff, but it's worth checking out. This Blu-ray boasts top-tier video and audio and a nice package of extras. 'Bolt' is recommended.