Posted on 04 December 2008.
Dogs were not a part of my life growing up. In fact, I spent most of my time avoiding them. They shed hair on you, they slobber on your clothes and their breath rivals a herd of cattle. I was never around them until my brother got a dachshund named “Noodles.” The three of us once stayed at a hotel, which allowed pets, but Noodles would bark maniacally at anyone passing by our room. After multiple attempts of verbally and physically trying to coax her away from the door, my brother hurled the removable spout from a water bottle toward her and tagged her between the eyes. She whined. Naturally, he felt immediate sorrow and regret, saying, “I’m sorry” and calling her over. I expected her to recoil and avoid anything to do with him. That’s what I’d do. It’s what we’d all do when the one we love, the one that’s supposed to protect us, inflicts pain. Instead, to my utter astonishment, she came on instant command. I had never witnessed such and act of faith and loyalty in my life, until I saw “Bolt.”
Bolt, a dog of non-descript breed, is the star of an action-oriented TV show bearing his name. He’s been genetically altered and buffed-up by his scientist owner in order to look out for his daughter, Penny. She is constantly pursued by the evil Dr. Calico and his henchmen in search of information only she can help provide. Bolt saves the day in typical fashion with his strength, ability to soar and most important of all, his “super bark.” All in a day’s work. Except, he doesn’t know it’s work. He thinks it’s all real.
Between takes, he is kept in a trailer in order to hide the secret from him. Two on-set feline’s taunt him from a skylight, keeping the secret out of reach, but egging him on about what they and Dr. Calico are planning to do with Penny next. During one such taunting session, Bolt escapes from his trailer and is accidentally released into the real world.
It’s in the real world where he meets the cast of characters that befriend him on his journey through self-discovery and renewal. They are Mittens, a stray cat, abandoned by her family, roughing it in the streets; and Rhino, an overzealous hamster, mostly relegated to his spherical plastic exercise ball. It’s with them that Bolt recognizes who he truly is – a “Truman Show”-esque character in his own life. Regardless of that revelation, he is dedicated to reuniting with his “person,” Penny, whom he believes loves and cares for him beneath her actress veneer.
Disney animation has suffered an inarguable steady decline in quality since the mid-90′s and “Bolt” was headed down a different path when originally conceived. In 2006, Pixar renewed their contract with Disney, which gave Pixar mastermind, John Lasseter (Director of “Toy Story” and “Cars”), the reigns to the Disney animation department. One of his first orders of business was to re-work the story for “Bolt.”
There are numerous beautifully realized sequences in the film. One involves Mittens showing Bolt how to act like a real dog. He learns to play with others, how to use his “puppy-dog face” for begging and even which porcelain structure he’s supposed to drink from. These scenes breathe incredible life into the very fabric of being a dog. While these actions are commonplace to anybody who’s even glimpsed these furry four-legged creatures, they are isolated in a way that draws attention to your ability to recognize them and appreciate them in a new light. “Bolt” captures the essence and being of a canine that I’ve never seen articulated so well.
In “Bolt,” celebrity voices are once again used to help sell the film and bring the characters to life. John Travolta, on yet another downturn in his career, voices the titular character. I don’t presume this to be the film to resurrect his star status, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Miley Cyrus gets second-billing as Penny, but is hardly involved. Those feeling they’ve had too much Hannah Montana in their lives are probably correct to be afraid, but not from this film. I also want to discuss the character of Rhino, the hamster. After only seeing a snippet of the character in the movie’s trailer, I had to roll my eyes. The psychotic comic relief sidekick exists in almost everything animated. He looked like a hamster version of the squirrel Steve Carrell voiced in “Over the Hedge.” However, he won me over. It doesn’t get much cooler than a hamster named Rhino. The way he maneuvers and controls his globosphere is masterful, and his loyalty to Bolt is heart-warming. He gives credence to why the archetype exist and if all movies used it the way “Bolt” does, there would be no reason to complain.
Pixar has proven to me what great computer animation is, and “Bolt” isn’t quite up to that level. As much as I enjoy the story creativity and portrayal of its hero, I don’t feel it quite reaches classic status. As a film, “Bolt” is still a very enjoyable time out, but as a movie about dogs and their nature, it excels. It’s the closest cinematic approximation of the loyalty I had seen at the hotel that day and is the greatest depiction of “man’s best friend” portrayed in any medium. After the movie, those with dogs will want to be with them more than ever, and those without will wish they had.
Posted on 11 November 2008.
Fourteen animated movies submitted their resumes in hopes of gaining Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature Film at the upcoming Academy Awards. Variety breaks down the list.
Disney’s “Wall-E,” DreamWorks Animation‘s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” and Fox’s “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who” are among the 14 films submitted for consideration in the animated feature film category for the 81st Academy Awards.Pics submitted in the animated feature film category also are eligible for consideration in others — including best picture — provided they meet the requirements for those categories.
Rounding out the animated submissions are “Bolt,” “Delgo,” “Dragon Hunters,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Igor,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “$9.99,” “The Sky Crawlers,” “Sword of the Stranger,” “The Tale of Despereaux” and “Waltz With Bashir.”
The key here to me is that all of these films can be considered for other categories, such as Best Picture as long as they meet certain conditions set forth by AMPAS. There has been much talk about the potential nomination of Wall-E for best picture. While Machinegunrap here, does not feel it is worthy, with Disney submitting for consideration in this category, doesnt rule out the possibility that it could be among the films chosen for Best Picture.
True, it has been a weak year to date for Oscar-worthy films. Many films were delayed as a result of the writer’s strike, so films that may have been considered for this year’s awards, like the Cormac McCarthy adaptation “The Road” starring Viggo Mortenson, have been pushed back and will ultimately not likely make the cut. Several Oscar contenders are still to come, like the much hyped Reservation Road, directed by Sam Mendes, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, and Darren Aronofsky’s Mickey Rourke-led, The Wrestler.
As for the animated category, what are your thoughts so far? Several of these films still haven’t been released like Bolt and Desperaux, but others like Igor and Fly Me To The Moon, seemed to fall flat and have little hope of gaining a nom. Let us know what you think.
On a slightly different note, this begs the question, with only 14 films submitted for a category where there are usually 3 nominated films, does this seem fair by comparison to the greater whole? There are roughly 150 films released each year, so this is less than 10%. There are only so many categories to go around, like Documentary, and of course Best Picture. It seems to me that other films are not on equal footing in competing for the main prize and perhaps that is why we have yet to see an Oscar-nomination in the Best Picture category from an animated film. Agree or disagree? This seems to make sense to me looking at it that way.