We begin to see the benefit in John Lasseter's takeover of the entire Disney animation empire with the new animated movie "Bolt." The film isn't Pixar " and Lasseter executive-produced but did not direct it " but to say that it could be a Pixar release isn't far off the mark.
Bolt (voiced beautifully by John Travolta) is a dog who stars, with "his person" Penny (nicely done by "Hannah Montana"'s Miley Cyrus) in a popular TV series. On the show, Penny does battle with the insidious Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell, "Halloween") who has kidnapped her scientist father. Her companion is a super-enhanced canine. Back in real life, Bolt is knocked into a crate and shipped New York. When he frees himself, he thinks that his removal from California is the result of Calico's evil plotting.
Bolt, you see, believes that his TV life is real. He doesn't know Penny is an actress, and he thinks he really has super powers.
On the streets of Gotham City he meets Mittens (Susie Essman, TV's "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), an alley cat that he believes is one of Calico's minions. Forcing Mittens to help him, he sets off on a cross-country trip to rescue Penny. On the way, the two of them meet Rhino (Mark Walton, "Chicken Little"), a chubby hamster and Bolt's biggest fan. He joins the team and the trio experiences a series of mishaps and adventures on their way west.
"Bolt" was written by Dan Fogelman ("Fred Claus," "Cars") and Chris Williams ("The Emperor's New Groove," "Mulan") and the film manages to be funny, touching, and family-friendly all at the same time. There are a minimum of pop-culture references, although there is an ongoing and knowing satire of Hollywood types, especially from an obnoxious agent voiced by Greg Germann ("Quarantine," "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby") and a snotty director ("Inside the Actor's Studio" host James Lipton). I think the script will hold up and you'll be able to enjoy the picture five years from now without having a head full of movie trivia.
Directed by Byron Howard and co-writer Williams, the movie is bright and fast-moving, and its theme is a familiar one: A person " even a dog " needs a family in order to get things done. So ubiquitous is this message in movies for kids, there must something in it that rings true among the young. The nice thing here is that conformity isn't praised as such and much attention is paid to being yourself and doing what you see needs to be done.
Travolta continues to be one of our most astonishing actors. The nature of the movie doesn't seem to be the determining factor, nor the degree of his commitment to it. He really wanted to make "Battlefield Earth" and just look at how terrible he was in that one. Better yet, don't.
Even the Grinches among us " and yes, I do have a mirror handy " will find much to enjoy in "Bolt." Get charged up.