I'm trying to muster up some enthusiasm for Disney's latest animated film, Bolt. It's cute. It has funny pigeons. My eight-year-old niece is going to like it, especially since Miley Cyrus is involved. It's the first non-Pixar Disney feature produced by John Lasseter, who directed the Toy Story movies and Cars. It's got Hollywood jokes in it, including a director voiced by James Lipton, and a comically pushy agent. And yet I never thrilled to the story or the characters; I wasn't half as amused as I'd been by Kung Fu Panda, a film for kids I saw earlier this year.
The story should sound familiar to anyone who grew up with Lassie movies or other animal-road-trip films, but with a Hollywood twist. The title character, a cute dog called Bolt (John Travolta), is fiercely attached to "his person," teenage Penny (Miley Cyrus). Bolt saves Penny's life on a regular basis as she and her dad are pursued by the evil Dr. Calico and his nasty cats ... or so he thinks. The truth is that Bolt is the star of a TV series, but the cast and crew are very careful not to let him know that he's not in real-life situations. So he believes he's a genetically engineered dog with laser eyes and amazing strength and a supersonic bark. When Bolt is separated from Penny and ends up halfway across the country on his own, for the first time he's in a world that isn't a soundstage or his trailer. Now, how will he get back to Penny?