Blu-ray Review: Bolt (2008) -- 3 Discs Including Digital Copy & DVD

Premiering First on Blu-ray 3/22
-- 2 Days Before It Dashes onto DVD

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In what Inside the Actors’ Studio host James Lipton calls his Walt Disney contribution as the “first Stanislavski animated method actor,” (following his recent work in the darkly comic Igor) playing a TV director in the film Bolt, he delivers the key line of “if the dog believes it, the audience believes it.”

The dog in question is the titular character Bolt, voiced by the charming John Travolta who-- unbeknown to himself-- is the unwitting, canine Truman Show style four-pawed star of an Inspector Gadget like superhero television series. Acting opposite his beloved “person,” Penny (Miley Cyrus), Bolt doesn't realize that the extreme stunts and heroics he carries out on a daily basis perpetually saving Penny from his cat-stroking, mad genius, arch nemesis Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) are staged.

When the shooting stops-- while Penny retreats to her trailer in the hopes of playing fetch with the puppy she picked out shortly after his birth-- Bolt staunchly refuses to break character (and in fact doesn't even know he is a character) by remaining on guard, paws ready, fiercely devoted to the girl he loves. After series of misadventures finds Bolt mistakenly shipped to New York City with no idea how to return to Penny in Hollywood, the Disney comedy that boasts an inventive premise morphs into a picturesque adventure complete with humorous animal sidekicks in the long-standing tradition of Walt Disney animation.

Initially released in 3D around the 2008 Thanksgiving holiday, Bolt has the honor of becoming Disney’s first release made under the guidance of Pixar’s John Lasseter who took over the animation department following the merging of the two companies. Not to mention, Bolt was the first film to hit shelves after Disney’s bold decision to release the Oscar-nominated Bolt exclusively on Blu-ray two full days before the DVD hits shelves.

Fully committed to the Blu-ray format since Walt Disney's exceptional release of Sleeping Beauty last fall and again unfailingly loyal to their audience, they once more return with high quality two and three disc packs of their movies in a Blu-ray format that also gives families either a digital copy of the movie and/or a standard high quality DVD to prevent added expense incurred when people began making the switch from DVD to Blu-ray.

Coming off the heels of their remarkable restoration of Pinocchio, it's a bit unfair to judge the action-packed and highly contemporary Bolt with the same yardstick. Similar to Pixar’s overly long works Cars and The Incredibles, Bolt feels much longer than its 96 minute running time as it exchanges the first act’s high-tech concept to become a Disney animal road movie wherein the sidekick characters are far more entertaining than Bolt or Penny.

Yet, despite this, the movie offers some of Walt Disney Studios’ most incredibly gorgeous animation since its hand-drawn hey-day as we discover in the terrific Blu-ray extra “Creating the World of Bolt,” which analyzes the film's art direction and goal to give the work a “soft, warm, lived-in-look,” as Bolt makes his way back to Hollywood throughout the various states in the continental U.S.

Following extensive research on the techniques employed by classic American painters and dedicated to bringing back the rich hand painted history of the studio’s original animation cells while merging it into the world of CGI, the artists of Bolt inserted brushstrokes and unprecedented detail in each and every shot. The amazing achievement by the art team also involved traveling the journey Bolt would be making in the film with their cameras and sketch pads in tow to see the way light and shadow appeared to change in each new place.

And indeed, as Bolt treks back to L.A. alongside his hyper, scene-stealing hamster sidekick Rhino (incidentally Bolt’s biggest fan) and the tough New York kitten Mittens (voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman in her first animated feature), we’re simply awestruck by the incredible attention to detail which helps elevate the film after it started to lose momentum in its final act.

Following its phenomenally exciting action-packed opening that soon gives way to pathos as we see the pain in Bolt’s eyes when he struggles to become reunited with his “person,” Essman and Disney employee turned voice actor Mark Walton (as Rhino) manage to charm us into laughs as Essman’s street-wise Mittens gives off an Oliver and Company vibe and Rhino comfortably slides into the most reliable of Disney supporting roles as Bolt’s version of Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.

And while overall, the premise itself is rock-solid and would’ve probably been able to be given a green-light on that strength of that ingenious concept alone, unfortunately as a whole the work feels a bit uneven once Bolt arrives in New York City. Possibly, the screenwriting team of Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams may have been a bit more successful if the storyline would’ve found a better payoff or balance between Bolt’s Truman Show like existence and discovery that although he isn’t a real bona fide “super dog,” his superb affection for his “person “will make him feel like one anyway.

And instead of simply sending him on the predictable ups and downs of a clich├ęd journey motif (despite the beauty) that Disney has exhausted in the past to better much result in the live action film Homeward Bound and in Pixar’s original Toy Story, by milking the opener of what the director called the set of a Michael Bay type TV show and Hollywood jokes, perhaps it would’ve kept the energy level and pacing it established much better than it did by the closing credits.

Of course, as a sucker for Disney’s four-legged friend films and having really enjoyed the outside-the-box approach of Beverly Hills ChihuahuaBolt doesn’t disappoint overall and the unique image of a dog, a cat, and a hamster going on the road like a 3D animated version of Jack Kerouac is good fun indeed. However, in the end, I think playing with the idea of the Stanislavski method animation actor approach would’ve given it a few more paws up.

In its gorgeously packaged three disc release of the Blu-ray that comes loaded with extras including a new short starring Rhino as he gets to live out his own Bolt-like superhero fantasy, a music video and in-studio voice session footage featuring Travolta and Cyrus, Disney’s BD-live network capabilities, DBox Motion options, art galleries, a filmmaker featurette, interactive games and more—the highlight for me was definitely the aforementioned “Creating the World of Bolt.”

For in it, once again audiences can sit back and simply marvel at the level of commitment and artistry served up by those who work in Disney animation. Also offering a digital copy (compatible with both PC and Apple computers and portable players) as well as a standard DVD of the film, Bolt is also hitting the street this week along with the hotly anticipated two-disc DVD version of Lilo and Stitch with the bonus of purchasers of both titles getting the opportunity to obtain a Bolt plush toy.