Since he was a tiny puppy, all a little white hound named Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) has ever known is being acclaimed as a ‘superdog’ on television sound stage and ‘saving’ his owner and devoted co-star Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus) from danger. (Think “Lassie” or, better yet, “Rin Tin Tin.”) So when he’s accidentally shipped off to New York City alone, he’s stunned and confused to discover there’s a real world out there.
Believing that his legendary feats of derring-do are real, not just special effects, Bolt kidnaps a savvy Manhattan street cat, Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), who cautions, “Nothing that you think is real is real.” They’re then joined by a hyperactive fanboy hamster, Rhino (voiced by Disney story artist Mark Walton), encased in a plastic ball. And the trio travels cross-country to get back to Hollywood to Penny, who ” Bolt fears – could be in mortal danger from diabolical Dr. Calico (voiced by Malcolm McDowell) without him.
As written by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams and directed by Williams and Byron Howard, the vocal talent is pivotal. John Travolta captures the canine’s tender earnestness and contagious enthusiasm, while Miley Cyrus’s vocals radiate warmth, vulnerability and emotional depth. Susie Essman’s feline gives Bolt a needed reality check and Mark Walton’s Rhino provides comic relief.
Under the animation supervision of Pixar’s John Lasseter, the CGI is both subtle and believable, particularly with 3-D projection. What’s lacking is original thinking. This concept is like “Homeward Bound” and “Incredible Journey;” there are no surprises.
So on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Bolt” is a spunky 7, teaching tiny tots that – with friendship and love – you don’t need superpowers to be a hero.