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Disney Revival Rundown: Bolt

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Welcome to the Disney Revival Rundown! This week, we at Rotoscopers are analyzing some of the most recent Disney animated films and looking at what makes each one so great. At the end of the series we will have a fan vote to determine which film is the best of them all!

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If 2007’s Meet The Robinsons was a step in the right direction for Disney Animation, then 2008’s Bolt simply helped WDAS blaze ahead. Bolt is that one movie that helped Disney Animation to refine itself. It is the movie which reminded the studio (and us) that as long as you have a touching, heartfelt story, strong characters, and a spark of creativity, magic can happen.

There is so much to love about Bolt. At the center of the story is one of Disney’s most adorable canines. The titular character (voiced by John Travolta) is the star of a top-rated TV show, where he shares adventures with his on-screen owner Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus). The thing is, Bolt thinks the TV show is all real. When he gets lost one day and ends up at the other side of the country, he teams up with a sarcastic cat and a fanboy hamster and together they make their way back to Hollywood, Homeward Bound style.

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By far, the strongest suit of Bolt is its story. Part buddy comedy and part road trip, the story is always engaging and never lags. There is no real villain, and the main character’s journey to self discovery feels like classic Disney. Although it’s mostly a familiar, breezy, and lightweight film, there are some intense moments (notably the climax) which definitely leave you at the edge of your seat and tug at your heartstrings. You’d think that a movie without any real villain would be quite a bore to sit through, but Bolt is so enjoyable that we hardly feel the need for an antagonist. The action scenes are slick and fast-paced (although most occur within a TV studio). These action scenes are hilariously contrasted with Bolt’s feeble attempts to use his superpowers in real life. What’s more, we also get a behind the scenes look at a popular TV show, and at producers who will do anything to keep the show running. As a lifelong animal lover, I also love the theme of having a pet as part of your family, and the selfless loyalty that dogs show to their owners.

The characters in Bolt are what make the movie so fantastic and enjoyable. Bolt spends half the movie confused as to who he really is, to much comedic effect and resulting in a satisfying character arc. Mittens the cat is delightfully sarcastic and is the only ‘grounded’ character among the main animal cast. And then there is the breakout character, a hamster hilariously named Rhino, who spends his days watching TV in his plastic hamster ball. Needless to say, he can’t contain himself in the presence of his hero, Bolt. None of the characters are too complex, yet we still feel for each one of them and root for them on their individual journeys to happiness.

The animation in Bolt is more than worthy of carrying the Disney brand. It’s clear that Disney Animation put a lot of effort into making sure that the film looked top-notch for its time. And, for a movie released in 2008, it’s great. Animal fur looks particularly realistic, while textures and environments look pleasing. It’s evident that a lot of this film’s technology was ported over and polished in 2010’s Tangled. In fact, these two movies do share a lot of visual similarity, notably the soft lighting effects and backgrounds that have a hand-painted feel.

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Bolt was the first time in a while that we saw that creative spark back in an in-house Disney animated movie. Clearly responsible for this boost in quality is John Lasseter, who was named Disney Animation boss back in 2006. Under him and his insistence on substance over style, Disney Animation slowly began to rise back to the top (where it rests today). In fact, for its animation quality and top-notch writing, Bolt could easily pass for a Pixar movie. Not to mention that some of the pigeons in the movie actually reference Finding Nemo.

If its warm critical response and commercial performance (worldwide $310 million) are any indication, Bolt was a success. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture, losing, of course, to a certain Pixar robot movie. Bolt still remains one of those animated movies I could watch several times without getting bored or sick of it. It never fails to make me laugh out loud, and still makes my heart melt whether it’s my 5th or 50th time watching it.

Bolt is a testament to the new Disney animation philosophy: great stories, endearing characters, and appealing animation. It may not be the ‘best’ modern Disney animated movie (in fact, it’s totally underrated), but it’s definitely up there with some of the all-time greats and, without a doubt, its success helped propel Disney Animation back to the top.

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Check out what fans have to say:

Is Bolt your favorite movie from Disney’s Revival Era?

Other articles in the Disney Revival Rundown:

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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