The first major release from Disney Animation since John Lasseter took the reins, Bolt has a lot riding on it. For the most part it delivers, even though, perhaps unsurprisingly, it feels like the child of two fathers, with suggestions of both traditional Disney storytelling and Pixar innovation. The two don’t quite gel.
It opens with a thrilling instalment of cute puppy dog Bolt’s (John Travolta) action-packed TV series, which on this evidence is the most expensive show ever made, involving fleets of helicopters, planes and cars. What’s even better is how the sequence is wittily deconstructed to show us how the illusion is maintained for Bolt, who believes the whole thing is real, with stuntmen and crew waiting until he leaves the set to stop playing dead and start dismantling the sets. It’s The Truman Show with a four-legged Jim Carrey.
But soon after, when Bolt is separated from owner Penny (tween superstar Miley Cyrus) and shipped to New York, things slow to a drag. There’s no-one yet to care about: Bolt is deluded and spoilt, and unforgivably slow to realise that his powers are a fantasy — although his explanation for their failure, the Kryptonite-like powers of Styrofoam, is admittedly fun. The only characters he meets are a flock of pigeons (blatant rip-offs of Animaniacs’ superior Goodfeathers) and con-artist cat Mittens (Susie Essman), a new take on a down-and-out Disney animal familiar from The Lady And The Tramp onwards. The worried humans Bolt leaves behind are similarly lacking: Cyrus is fine, but the lazy jokes about Penny’s heartless agent, which form the bulk of her scenes, will mystify kids and feel old-hat to adults.
But there’s a hero riding — or rather rolling — to the rescue, in the shape of hyper hamster Rhino (Mark Walton), a creature with a heart larger than his brain and enough courage to overflow his exercise ball. His breathless enthusiasm peps up the slower moments and adds comedy to the action scenes, and it’s tempting to see him as the Pixar influence on an otherwise so-so Disney story.
It feels, then, like the House Of Mouse has a way to go to recapture its former glories. That said, if viewed as an all-action remake of slush-fest The Incredible Journey, and boasting a thrilling, emotionally sound finale back in Hollywood, this bodes well for the future of Lasseter’s Disney.