This Week in Movies: Bolt

I’ve come to realize, after having written this column for almost a year now, that being a critic is a hard life to live. Think about it: your opinion is so apparently dependable that you’re forced to do the talking, not the listening. It projects an image of snobbish self-importance upon that person, ironically leaving them to appear even less human rather than more to the people that do the listening. Now why would anyone want to listen to that?

Yet rest assured, critics recognize this too. And their opinions, while presented in a seemingly superior way, are rooted within the same simplicities of human emotion characteristic of all beings.

So when I arrive at an overly-simplistic film like Disney’s computer-animated Bolt, some might expect me to criticize it. Some might assume that I was looking for a film that would challenge me as a critic, not one that I could just enjoy as a human being. But a simple story isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though movie reviewers these days might convey that idea, we aren’t all that stiff. Believe it or not, I like a heartfelt kid’s movie just as much as the kids they’re targeted at do. After all, I’m only human.

With this in mind, I enjoyed Bolt very much, and not just for its simplicities. With an all-star voice cast including John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, the film follows a dog of the same name (as played by Travolta) as he embarks upon a quest to save his owner Penny (as played by Cyrus), from apparent danger, The only problem is, she’s not actually in any trouble. Although Bolt is the star of a television program, he is unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, leaving him confused as to who he really is. Still, with a little help from some newfound friends along a cross-country road trip, Bolt is eventually given the chance to find his way.

Blurring the line between Disney and Pixar films (to a degree), the flick is most impressive for its action sequences and its snappy, clever dialogue. Not only is Bolt able to show off his moves in some exciting action scenes on the set of his TV program, but he also finds time for some intelligently-structured comic relief with his two friends. Even so, it is Bolt’s hamster-in-a-ball pal Rhino that ultimately steals the show. I never thought I’d say this, but listen up for what that hamster has to say.

With these things going for it, it’s a shame that Bolt hasn’t performed as well as other, more mediocre computer-animated November releases of recent years. Last weekend saw Twilight skew to younger crowds than initially expected, thereby allowing it to open to a jaw-dropping $69.6 million. The number literally took a bite out of Bolt’s potential audience, leaving it with a disappointing $26.2 million for its weekend take. Compare that to numbers like 2005’s Chicken Little at $40 million, 2006’s Happy Feet with $41.5 million and 2007’s Bee Movie with $38 million, and one can see that the far better Bolt deserves to see more people in the forthcoming holiday season.

With that, Bolt is highly recommended. Its simple storyline will appeal to a younger audience, yet it certainly does not detract an older one thanks to its other unique traits. Any kid at heart, critic and reader alike, can appreciate that.

Bolt is playing at the Hamilton Movie Theater now.