(2008)3.5Perry SeibertSometimes a story is so beautifully simple that it's impossible to muck it up, and the animated 3-D Bolt is a perfect example. The premise: A cute little dog named Bolt (John Travolta) and his loving tween-girl owner, Penny (Disney It Girl Miley Cyrus), are the stars of a hit action TV show about a small white German shepherd with superpowers. The producers of the show believe the program's success stems from Bolt's realistic "acting," so to that end, they never let the canine star in on the fact that he's on a TV show, hiding all the cameras and crew so that Bolt grows up thinking he really does have heat vision, a super bark, and the ability to stop trucks with his head. One day, thanks to a series of misunderstandings and misfortunes, Bolt accidentally gets mailed to New York City, sending him on an adventure-filled cross-country journey back to Penny in Hollywood. During his trek, Bolt learns the truth about himself, and makes new friends in the form of a streetwise alley cat and an overly enthusiastic hamster.
The opening of the movie brilliantly establishes the TV show's fictional world -- the one Bolt thinks is real -- with a superb ten-minute action sequence straight out of a family-friendly Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Bolt, with his super speed, and Penny, atop her tricked-out scooter, evade helicopters, motorcyclists, and a ticking time bomb, all while speeding along a busy California freeway. There is a kinetic pop to the whole scene, especially when the occasional slow-mo shot lets you see exactly how much time is left before the bomb explodes. This opening does such a good job of setting the fun and snappy tone for the rest of the movie (not to mention taking thrillingly full advantage of the 3-D format) that the generic family-movie elements that come later on don't feel so tedious to grownups or boring to kids. And as the story unfolds, Bolt's slow acceptance that he doesn't have special powers provides twists on the old finding-your-way-back-home plot, so the movie amuses both those who make up the film's target audience and the parents along for the ride. This winning mix of exciting action, heart-tugging sentiment, and gentle character comedy makes Bolt yet another solid addition to Disney's history of family-friendly fare.