For Disney's 48th full length animated feature, the first under John Lasseter's watchful eye, the classic studio brought an interesting mix of ideals to the table. This is the first film from the mouse-ears company that genuinely felt like it contained Pixar's trademark mix of brains and heart. Disney creating a tale that's enjoyable for adults as well as children, with plenty for any potential audience. Pixar films never fail to draw an emotional response, by tapping into feelings we all have had at some point, instead of creating stories and characters that we cannot relate to, like, I don't know, 'The Princess and the Frog.'
When Peter reviewed 'Bolt' in 2009, he was 100 percent correct in saying that the film's sole shortcoming is the manner in which the sentimentality of the film feels too cliched and unoriginal. It's true, 'Bolt' is not the perfect film. It does try to be too much, and one distinct portion of its narrative is too predictable in an otherwise unpredictable, fairly original story. Funnily enough, 'Bolt' resonates with me deeper with each viewing, and gets more emotional each time because of this particular shortcoming. I suppose that's enough reason for me to call 'Bolt' a great film: even its flaws draw the desired response from its audience, even if a few of the emotional bits are too forced.
Taking a page from the self-aware cinema of today, 'Bolt' abandons the idea of being a straightforward story of a dog that gets separated from its owner. That by itself wouldn't be enough to be worth watching, as we've had that a number of times before. 'Homeward Bound', anyone? Instead, 'Bolt' gives us a journey of self-discovery, in which the titular character discovers almost every single facet of his life has been a lie of sorts.
Penny's dog Bolt is her best friend, and, many a time, her knight in shining armor, as the pooch repeatedly foils the schemes of the evil Dr. Calico and the amazingly long, ever-present reach of his fiends, with his laser vision, lightning fast speed, and his super bark that displaces anything in its path. For every Calico scheme, there's always Bolt to save the day at the last minute. Man's best friend, indeed, but focus groups are saying the show is too predictable, lacking any real edge or danger. That's right, show. Bolt is the star of a television show named after him, only he doesn't know it, and since he's always been able to save the day, he's never known otherwise. That is, of course, until the first cliffhanger episode. With no idea that Calico (the green-eyed man) and his stooges, and their elaborate plots are fictional, Bolt sets out to save Penny, who he saw kidnapped before the most recent episode wrapped. Instead, he'll find himself separated from the one person who loves him.
Separated by an entire country's width, Bolt must travel from New York back to Hollywood, only it's much further apart than it seems on those placemat maps. Without the use of props and effects, Bolt also has no discernible super powers either. A streetwise cat and an overly enthusiastic hamster/Bolt-fan will help in the journey, but as Bolt slowly discovers the truth, he'll have to ask himself if everything was a lie and Penny's love a ruse.
It's hard to dislike 'Bolt,' the character or the film. A creature of pure love and heartbreaking dedication to his owner, he's such an enthusiastic yet naive hero that it's hard to root against him. He's perfectly realized, with his ignorance of the real world making his cross-country trek his first real adventure, even if he's thwarted super villains en masse in less than an hour. His confusion concerning cats, due to their continued evil presence in the show (and their mockery of his state of deception), may make him less than a knight in shining armor, but in time, even his perceived enemy is seen through a different light, as a friend and accomplice.
'Bolt' mixes the superbly crafted and intense action sequences that create the opening of the film with the more realistic, down to Earth, ride-hopping road trip buddy comedy angles perfectly, and as one by one Bolt's powers fail him, the character becomes more accessible, human even. It's a treat watching the dog try to grasp straws as to why he's seemingly depowered, as the realization that something is amiss is never on his mind. He's too trusting to let that be the case. Yet, as time goes on and the ruse is realized, Bolt still has the ability to be the hero and save the day, even if he can't run faster than a car or shoot beams from his eyes and make objects explode.
It's hard not to love watching Bolt discover the life he had not been afforded in his years in show business, from discovering the realities of the world, to interacting with real animals and people, including learning how to beg, in an adorable montage that ends in the funniest way possible when Mittens tries her hand at the craft she teaches Bolt. It's also tough to not love Rhino, the hamster whose disconnect from reality is even greater than Bolt's, despite (or even because of) being his number one fan. Penny, Bolt's owner, also helps the film maintain its purity, by refusing to let any other dog replace her pet, realizing how the life that Bolt has been given may not be the best for him, making every effort within her ability to find her pup. The refusal to let go and move on, it's something we all have had to face, and it's nicely portrayed here.
Sure, 'Bolt' goes for the gut a few times too many, rather than aiming for the heart, and it can be a bit much. Yeah, the celebrity duo of Miley Cyrus and John Travolta may be awkward and uninspired at times. And sure, one has to wonder exactly how some of those elaborate scenes for the television program were made, considering the dog believes every minute of it, yet there's no way it could all be created on a soundstage. 'Bolt' isn't perfect, and I never said it was. It's perfectly charming, entertaining, and funny, and deeply inspiring, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Bolt' has not received a legitimate domestic Blu-ray 3D release as of yet. There are currently two ways to get 'Bolt' in 3D, though, as Sony 3D televisions include the 3D only disc of the film, alongside Michael Jackson's 'This Is It,' while European countries have received a standalone release that doesn't require a new electronics purchase. Keeping in Disney's 3D routine up to now, the 3D disc of this release does not contain a 2D version of the film. Instead, a separate disc is offered for that version of the film. However, and this is a big however, the 2D version of 'Bolt' in import releases is Region B locked, meaning most buyers cannot access that version of the film.
The packaging for the release indicates Region A/B/C coding, which is what the 3D disc is. Shady, no? This release is housed in a fatter case, with an attractive slipcover, reutilizing the existing 2D disc from the UK. There are no annoying pre-menu trailers in front of the 3D disc for 'Bolt'. There is also, funnily enough, no chapter selection on the main menu, and no extras tab, either. Just setup options and a play button.
'Tangled,' 'A Christmas Carol,' 'Step Up 3D,' and now 'Bolt' have proven that Disney hits all the right spots when it comes to their Blu-ray 3D releases. This 1080p full HD 3D release (in the 1.78:1 frame) is an absolute visual feast, and even if it cannot rival the depth of some of the newer animated titles, it most certainly can overpower the numerous flawed 3D releases by not falling to their mistakes.
The use of 3D in the film isn't overly immersive, but the devil is in the details, and 'Bolt' is definitely one of the best looking 3D titles yet. Textures are an absolute marvel, while colors remain powerful and bold, without a single hint of banding or artifacting in sight. Detail levels are through the roof, and there isn't a single inch of the film that looks subpar, not one, as the impressive animation and design rings true throughout the entire 96 minute runtime. The pop-up storybook sequence, which was a fun little gimmick, gets new life in 3D, where it suddenly makes sense (a 2D pop-up book is hardly all that "pop-up"). Bolt and Mittens never look smoothed, their ears constantly having the nice gruff edges, their coats growing deeper with every bit more they get muddied up. The 3D effects themselves aren't exaggerated, with backgrounds going deeper in more subtle ways, with simple background props or light activity coming to life, making the 3D feel more natural and easy to accept.
There are a couple tiny spots of aliasing in hair, albeit brief little moments, as well as a jagged edge on the animal control truck, but that issue doesn't repeat itself anywhere else in the film. Ghosting? Early on, there's a little bit in the Calico video conference, with the hologram monitor and the participant viewing it having a tiny misfire, as well as the text on Penny's polaroid camera and in some of the editing room monitors, but those are fairly brief moments, and the film is free from issue the rest of the way. These minor issues add up to be a collective nothing, an insignificant batch of minor boo-boos that I can't fathom will upset viewers all that much, since they're all so short and minor. 'Bolt' earns its perfect video score, and while it doesn't have the depth that 'Tangled' sports, it makes up for it everywhere else.
If you have any sleeping children in the house, once you've played the first chapter of 'Bolt,' you won't anymore! Just like it was when first released on the 2D only disc, 'Bolt' and its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a rip roaring, action packed, non-stop thrill ride...for your ears!
While the film adjusts to a more realistic, non-cinematic setting after the faux Bolt show opener, that doesn't mean that it stops being a demo release. Far from it, even. Every channel is given enough localized and ambient effects to keep the soundstage lively and interesting, while bass levels roar, music pops in from every which way, and range hits both the peak highs and powerful lows. Not a single element is overpowered, every line of dialogue, every intended noise can be heard clearly and easily. It earned a perfect score on the 2D release, and it does it again with this import.
If you read the Vital Stats portion of this review, you know that the 3D disc does not contain a single extra for the film. Instead, the following extras can be accessed on the 2D disc, if you have a Region B player. Please note, that the initial domestic release of the film included a Digital Copy, while both the original and newer release contain a bonus DVD. Neither bonus disc is included here.
Every other extra from this section on the domestic Blu-ray is included here, as well. The drop in score reflects the lack of the bonus DVD. The coverage of these extras comes from Peter's 2D review.
'Bolt' is a great animated feature, with superb humor and lots of brains, even if it goes for the quick and dirty tearjerker scenes. This import of the 3D release of the film has some of the best video on the new format, as well as sharp, powerful audio. The Region B locked 2D version of the film is a bit of a disappointment, so don't sell that version you have on your shelf when you upgrade! With the low price this release is commanding (which is usually much less than the exclusive version), it's hard to not advise 3DTV owners to import this release. It's a must own if you have the gear to play it!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.