One went into Bolt with low expectations the premise did not seem a particularly promising one. However, Bolt pleasantly confounds low expectations and emerges with immense charm. It is very nicely animated, using a stylised form of depiction when it comes to the animals. The best part about the film is the trio of central characters Bolt, the hero whose bubble of reality is set up for a massive deflation; Mittens, the world-weary street cat; and particularly the character of Rhino, the manic hamster in a bubble who sets out on the quest with goggle-eyed fanboy enthusiasm who have their respective story arcs delineated on screen with a unique originality. There are some charming scenes like where Mittens tries to coach Bolt in how to develop a puppy dog face to beg food for them and those that are beautifully heart-rendering where Mittens lets slip her own hurts about being abandoned on the street by her owner; or the sadness when Bolt returns to Penny and thinks she is welcoming him back, only for her to accept the replacement into her arms. The headline voice casting of John Travolta and current Disney sensation Miley Cyrus as Bolt and Penny is fine but far better performances come from the unknowns Susie Essman as Mittens and Mark Walton, in fact a Disney storyboard artist, who steals much of the film as Rhino.
There have been a few films about pretend superhero or heroes who did not realise they had no powers such as Hero at Large (1980), Blankman (1994) and Orgazmo (1997), although none of these have been particularly funny, at least up until the spate of films that came just after this with Defendor (2009), Griff the Invisible (2010), Kick-Ass (2010) and Super (20100. The character of Bolt has almost certainly been inspired if not borrowed from Buzz Lightyear, the toy space hero who did not realise he was a toy, in Pixars Toy Story (1995). There was also the character of Thunderbolt, the heroic dog actor trying to make his way in the wider world in 101 Dalmatians II: Patchs London Adventure (2003). Although, the real source for both Buzz Lightyear and particularly Bolt is Don Quixote, the hero of Miguel Cervantes famous 1605 comic novel, a middle-aged nobleman who imagines himself to be a knight and sets out on a quest for adventure, imagining various mundane things to be part of a heroic adventure the expression tilting at windmills, meaning a foolhardy quest, comes from the famous scene where Don Quixote attacks windmills believing them to be monsters. Bolt cleverly updates this to the era of the tv action show and substitutes talking animals but could almost be telling the same story. It does not take too much to imagine Rhino the manic hamster as the equivalent of Don Quixotes tubby, dim-witted companion Sancho Panza.
The Don Quixote-esque blends between mundane reality and imagined illusion of heroism are played with an appealingly adept sense of humour. I suppose you could make a quibble with the films basic premise. Like many films about the shooting of a film/tv show, Bolt has a dramatic sequence taking place before pulling back to reveal that it is being shot as part of a film. It is a cliche shot but also a massive cheat. All of these pullback-to-show-the-camera scenes take place in multiple shots (and in several different locales here) but this is never how a film/tv show is filmed. Each shot is carefully staged, rehearsed and reshot numerous times and the best take selected. Notably, this happens only one shot at a time, not as an action sequence and it can sometimes take days to shoot every shot in the sequence. In fact, the shots in a scene are rarely ever filmed in the same order they take place on screen. Furthermore, entire action sequences like the ones that we see in the opening would have an army of stunt people, rigs, safety harnesses and airbags outside of the cameras eye and if the dog was so self-aware to believe it had superpowers it would be hard pressed to miss these. It would also be exxxxtremely difficult to constantly shoot such action sequences in a single take. Not to mention the directors tirade about a boom mike intruding into frame in any real world setting, if it was so difficult to reshoot the sequence they would just bring in the visual effects department to airbrush out the mike.
That said, Bolt is a winning film. It only need be compared to a very similar film the live-action Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008), which was released only one month earlier. Both feature a plot about a small dog with a pampered lifestyle that is lost and abandoned in the streets and meets a streetwise companion in its journey to find the way back to its owner. Where Beverly Hills Chihuahua was a charmless film, centred only around the cuteness of its premise and deriving its humour from sarcastic one-liners and pop culture in-references, Bolt tells the same with an array of warmly endearing characters, humour that never punctures the bubble of illusion and an entirely winning charm.