It’s time for the cats of the world to unite against stereotyping in movies. Too often on film cats are portrayed as bad, the personification of evil. Ever since Sylvester was introduced to the Tweety Bird cartoon cats have gotten a bad rap. Remember Cats and Dogs, the movie about an evil army of cats poised to take over the world? Or how about the scheming cat from Babe or the twin evil Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp? Even Garfield is portrayed as lazy and cynical. It’s time for this denigration of our feline friends to stop! Unfortunately the new movie Bolt from the folks at Disney perpetrates the unfounded and cruel stereotypes of cats as sinister and manipulative.
The hero of the movie is, of course, a dog. He’s Bolt (the voice of John Travolta), the pampered titular star of the television show Bolt. His character is a mix of the Six Million Dollar Man and The Littlest Hobo. He’s a super dog with super powers, but he’s also a method actor, so to get the best possible performance from him producers use special effects to make Bolt think he is actually a super dog with a sound barrier breaking Super Bark and other powers. That means no re-shoots and no second takes. “If the dog believes it,” says Bolt’s director, “the audience will believe it.” All goes well until one day when Bolt escapes from the set in search of his “person” and co-star Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus). Thus begins a cross country search, accompanied by Rhino (voice by Mark Walton), a star struck hamster and Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman), the obligatory mean cat or “degenerate creature of darkness” as one character calls her. When Bolt realizes that he doesn’t have super powers and that his life of fighting evil has been a sham he wonders, “If I don’t chase bad guys, what am I?” Luckily for Bolt and the reputation of cats everywhere Mittens redeems herself and is able to help him find happiness as a regular dog.
Bolt is a lushly animated story with genuine laughs for both adults and kids. It starts off with a bang with an action packed clip from the Bolt television show in which the canine defies gravity, defuses bombs, stops automobiles with his steel reinforced head and generally saves the day. It’s a wild ride that had the children in the audience I saw it with squealing, although it may be a bit intense for really young kids.
As I noted in my review of Madagascar Escape 2 Africa, in Bolt it isn’t the above-the-title stars that carry the show, but the supporting characters. Madagascar wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without the penguins and Bolt would be much less interesting without Rhino, Mittens and a variety of pigeons from the dim-witted New York birds to the slick screenwriting rats-with-wings Bolt and company meet in Los Angeles. Seasoned voice actors like Mark Walton give these characters some real oomph, unlike Travolta and Cyrus who provide recognizable voices but little else. The movie’s biggest laughs come from the supporting cast, and Rhino, the determinedly loyal hamster deserves his own movie.
Bolt, despite its treatment of cats as the Rodney Dangerfield of the animal kingdom—they just can’t get no respect—is solid entertainment for the whole family.
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