Because of the endless stream of computer animated kids’ flicks appearing on a screen near you, it’s hard to work out which of the films will be worthy and which are a painstakingly rendered waste of time. Bolt is thankfully of the former.

Yes, the main premise has been seen before. Bolt (the voice of John Travolta) is an adorable little dog with superpowers who frequently beats bad guys alongside his human, Penny (Miley Cyrus).Bolt He’s got the super speed, the laser beam eyes and a sonic boom for a bark, the only problem is that he thinks it’s all real. He’s actually the star of his own TV show that screens every Thursday at 8pm, and the crew work tirelessly to create the show around him without his knowledge.

It’s pretty obvious that we’re in Truman Show territory here, and of course we know that the moment Bolt figures out it’s all fake there’s going to be a few tears, kinda like when Buzz Lightyear had his whole world brought into question. But that didn’t bother me – very few films aimed at this type of audience are mindblowingly original.

What’s really interesting, however, is the other, more powerful theme – that of pets’ unwavering devotion to their owners. The film really drives home the idea that domesticated animals (well, dogs, mainly) would do anything for us, even when we mistreat them. Their whole world revolves around their human, and this film nails that idea perfectly.

The animation is great, though stops short of superb, and seeing the film in 3D is of course a must – this new breed of 3D technology is fantastic, as we’ve seen with Monster House and Beowulf. The animators have clearly spent a lot of time studying the movement of dogs – Bolt’s animation is perfect – though it’s also obvious they paid no attention to cats, since his reluctant companion Mittens’ (Susie Essman) movements aren’t realistic at all.

Travolta’s forever-boyish voice works perfectly, and Essman nails Mittens’ tone even if the visual performance is lacking. Malcolm McDowell plays Bolt’s Nemesis Dr. Calico, though anyone with a half decent evil chuckle could have done that… Mark Walton steals the show as Rhino the hamster, though. It’s a role that could have easily gone to Jack Black or Seth Rogen, but I’m glad that not all voice actors have been pushed out of the way in favour of better known stars.

The action scenes in Bolt are top notch. In a time when rapid-fire editing and handheld camera (also known as Cutting Corners) is rampant, digital animation spends so much time trying to convince us it’s real that we get nice long, wide shots that let us fully absorb what’s going on.

I really enjoyed Bolt, even though it’s fairly formulaic and had an awful song composed for the purposes of montage (it’s not quite a Randy Newman tune about friendship, but it’s close…).

Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 8th January 2009
Hoopla Factor: 4 stars

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