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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Bolt

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Bolt

Year: 2008

Budget: $150 million

Box office: $310 million

Plot: A White Shepherd puppy named Bolt is adopted by a seven-year-old girl named Penny. Five years later, Bolt and Penny star in a hit television series called Bolt, in which Bolt uses various superpowers to protect Penny from the villain. To gain a more realistic performance, the show’s producers have deceived Bolt his entire life, arranging the filming in such a way that Bolt believes everything in the show is real and that he really has superpowers, including a devastatingly powerful sonic scream-like “superbark”.


After a cliffhanger episode causes Bolt to believe Penny has been kidnapped, he escapes from his on-set trailer in Hollywood but knocks himself unconscious and is trapped inside a box of foam peanuts which is shipped to New York City.


In New York, Bolt resumes his search for Penny and quickly finds that his “superpowers” are useless. He encounters Mittens, a feral cat who bullies pigeons out of their food. Bolt compels Mittens to guide him back to Penny — Mittens being convinced her captor is a lunatic — and the two start their journey westward by truck.

Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Penny is distraught over Bolt’s disappearance but is convinced by the studio to continue filming with a less experienced Bolt lookalike. Surprised at his first feelings of hunger, Bolt is shown by Mittens how to act like a cute but needy dog, obtaining food for them both at an RV park. They are joined by Rhino, a fearless hamster and fanatical Bolt fan.

Rhino’s unwavering faith in Bolt substantiates the dog’s illusions about his superpowers, but causes Mittens to realize that Bolt is from a television show. She tries to tell Bolt that his superpowers are not real, but Bolt simply becomes frustrated and attempts to “superbark” her repeatedly. The noise draws the attention of an Animal Control patrol and Bolt and Mittens are captured and taken to an animal shelter.

Bolt, freed from the patrol van by Rhino, finally realizes and accepts that he is just a normal dog, but regains his confidence after Rhino (oblivious to this revelation) exhorts him to heroism. They rescue Mittens from the shelter, and as they continue west, Bolt and Mittens form a close friendship in which she teaches Bolt how to be an ordinary dog and enjoy typical dog activities.

Mittens makes plans for them to stay in Las Vegas, but hearing Bolt is still drawn to find Penny, she tells him that Penny is only an actor, and that humans never truly love their pets but betray and abandon them, as happened to her. Bolt refuses to believe her and continues on alone to Hollywood; with Rhino’s encouragement his two friends follow shortly after.

Bolt reaches the studio and finds Penny embracing his lookalike. Unaware that Penny still misses him and that her affection for the lookalike is only a part of a rehearsal, he leaves. Mittens, on a gantry in the studio, sees Penny telling her mother how much she misses Bolt. Realizing that Penny truly does love Bolt, Mittens follows Bolt and explains.


At the same time, the Bolt replacement panics during the show’s filming and accidentally knocks over some flaming torches, setting the sound stage on fire with Penny trapped inside. Bolt arrives and the two reunite inside the burning studio, but are unable to escape before Penny begins to suffocate from the smoke. Bolt refuses to leave her, and with his last strength, uses his “superbark” through the building’s air vent. Hearing the noise, the firefighters rescue them in time.


Penny and her mother quit when their overeager agent attempts to exploit the incident for publicity purposes. The show continues with a replacement “Bolt” and “Penny” and a new storyline involving alien abduction. Penny adopts Mittens and Rhino, and she and her family move to a rural home to enjoy a simpler, happy lifestyle with Bolt and her new pets.

Background: Bolt was going to be titled American Dog, and was written and directed by Chris Sanders. 1 The plot told the story of a dog named Henry, a famous TV star, who one day finds himself stranded in the Nevada desert with a testy, one-eyed cat and an oversized, radioactive rabbit who are themselves searching for new homes, all the while believing he is still on television. In 2006, John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer at Disney Animation, and attended two screenings of the film. He gave Sanders notes on how to improve the story.

Sanders 2 was replaced by Chris Williams and Byron Howard. According to Lasseter, Sanders was replaced because he resisted the changes that Lasseter and the other directors had suggested. Lasseter was quoted as saying “Chris Sanders is extremely talented, but he couldn’t take it to the place it had to be.” Ed Catmull in his book Creativity, Inc. wrote “somewhere along the way, the plot had also come to include a radioactive, cookie-selling Girl Scout zombie serial killer.” After Sanders left, the animation team was told to complete the filming in 18 months instead of the usual four years that is normally required to produce a computer-animated feature.

Animation: New technology in non-photorealistic rendering (NPR) was used to give it a special visual appearance, a technique which will later be used in Tangled. To give the film’s 3D backgrounds a hand-painted look, the company artists used new patented technology designed specifically for the film.

Bolt’s characteristics are based on an amalgam of breeds, although the designers started with the American White Shepherd. Joe Moshier, lead character designer, said, “they American White Shepherds have really long ears, a trait that I tried to caricature in order to allow the animators to emphasize Bolt’s expressiveness.”

The design of Rhino in his plastic ball was based on executive producer John Lasseter’s pet chinchilla, which was brought to an animators’ retreat during the film’s production.

Songs & Music:


The score to Bolt was composed by John Powell. He is known for his scores for animated films, including Antz, Chicken Run, Shrek, Robots, Happy Feet, Rio, and How to Train Your Dragon. He also scored the Jason Bourne films as well as Solo.



The soundtrack features two original songs

  • “I Thought I Lost You” by Miley Cyrus and John Travolta 3
  • “Barking at the Moon” by Jenny Lewis.

Voice Cast:

John Travolta 4 as Bolt. He first became known from the television series Welcome Back, Kotter and the films Saturday Night Fever 5 and Grease. He had a comeback with his role in Pulp Fiction, 6 and he has since starred in films such as Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Swordfish, Be Cool, Wild Hogs, Hairspray and The Taking of Pelham 123. Travolta received his first Primetime Emmy Award, as a producer of American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson . He also received an additional Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of lawyer Robert Shapiro in the series. Susie Essman as Mittens. She is a stand-up comedian, best known for her role as Susie Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Mark Walton returns as Rhino. Miley Cyrus as Penny. As a chi child actor, she appeared on the series Doc and the film Big Fish her breakout role television series Hannah Montana. Cyrus has earned three number-one albums on the US Billboard 200 with Meet Miley Cyrus, Breakout, and Bangerz. Cyrus has also been featured as a coach on the singing competition television series The Voice.

Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Calico. He is best known for the roles of Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange and the title character in Caligula. He has also appeared in Time After Time, Cat People, Star Trek Generations, Tank Girl, Easy A, and The Artist. His television roles include Entourage, Heroes, Franklin & Bash, and Mozart in the Jungle. Nick Swardson as Blake. He starred in, co-wrote and co-produced the film Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, he also had a reoccurring role on Reno 911!

Diedrich Bader as Veteran Cat. He has appesred in the films The Beverly Hillbillies, Office Space, EuroTrip and Napoleon Dynamite and the sitcoms The Drew Carey Show, Veep, Outsourced and American Housewife. As a voice actor he has voiced Batman on Batman: The Brave and the Bold and JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time, android Zeta in The Zeta Project, Warp Darkmatter in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command , the Fiskerton Phantom in The Secret Saturdays and his recurring role as Hoss Delgado in The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Greg Germann as The Agent. He is known for playing Richard Fish on the television series Ally McBeal. 7 He also is known for his role as Eric “Rico” Morrow on the sitcom Ned & Stacey, as Tom Krane on Law & Order, and as Hades on Once Upon a Time.

James Lipton as The Director. He is the dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York City. He is the executive producer, writer and host of the Bravo cable television series Inside the Actors Studio. Randy “The Macho Man” Savage 8 as Thug. He appeared on popular television shows Walker, Texas Ranger and Mad About You. His most famous film role was in the film Spider-Man as the wrestler Bonesaw McGraw. As a voice actor he leant his voice to Dexter’s Laboratory, King of the Hill, and Space Ghost Coast To Coast.

Kari Wahlgren as Mindy. She has provided voices for a number of series including Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, Fish Hooks, Phineas and Ferb, Ben 10, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Winx Club, Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, Rick and Morty, Bunnicula, The Fairly OddParents, and Bunsen Is a Beast. In video games, she voiced lead characters Ashe in Final Fantasy XII and Shelke in Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII. Grey DeLisle as Penny’s Mother. Her voice roles include Vicky from The Fairly OddParents, Samantha “Sam” Manson from Danny Phantom, Mandy from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Frankie Foster, Duchess, and Goo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Yumi Yoshimura from Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kimiko Tohomiko from Xiaolin Showdown, as well as Lola, Lana, and Lily Loud from The Loud House, and Prince Puppycorn from Unikitty!. She has been the voice of Daphne Blake in the Scooby-Doo cartoons and direct-to-videos and other appearances since 2000. In video games, she voices Amanda Valenciano Libre from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

J.P. Manoux as Tom. He has appeared in several Disney productions, including S.T.A.N. in Aaron Stone, Curtis the Caveman and Vice Principal Hackett in Phil of the Future, and the voice of Kuzco in The Emperor’s New School. He voiced Scrappy Rex in Scooby-Doo. Brian Stepanek as Martin. He has appeared in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Brian O’Brian, Transformers, and The Island. He is also known as the voice of Roger in Father of the Pride and Tom Harper on Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. He currently voices Lynn Loud Sr. on The Loud House.

Jeff Bennett as Lloyd. His voice roles include Johnny Bravo in the television series of the same name, Petrie in the Land Before Time films and television series, Mr. Smee and Bones in Jake and the Never Land Pirates, The Man With the Yellow Hat in Curious George, Raj in Camp Lazlo, and Kowalski in The Penguins of Madagascar. John DiMaggio as Saul. He is known as Bender from Futurama, Jake the Dog on Adventure Time, and Marcus Fenix in the Xbox video game Gears of War. Other voice-over roles of his include Dr. Drakken and Motor Ed on Kim Possible, Brother Blood on Teen Titans, Aquaman in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Rico in The Penguins of Madagascar, Fu Dog and Ogre in American Dragon: Jake Long, Niblet on Pound Puppies, the Scotsman on Samurai Jack, King Zøg on Disenchantment and Shnitzel on Chowder.

Jenny Lewis as Assistant Director. She started as a child actress, appearing in Troop Beverly Hills, The Wizard and the television series Brooklyn Bridge. She is best known as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the indie rock band Rilo Kiley. Lewis has released three solo albums: Rabbit Fur Coat, Acid Tongue, and The Voyager. In addition to Rilo Kiley and her solo career, Lewis has also been a member of the bands The Postal Service, Jenny & Johnny and Nice As Fuck. Chloë Grace Moretz as Young Penny. As a child actor she had roles in The Amityville Horror, The Poker House, (500) Days of Summer, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Let Me In. Her breakthrough role was as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass and its sequel Kick-Ass 2. Other films include Hugo, Dark Shadows, Carrie, Clouds of Sils Maria, If I Stay, The Equalizer, The 5th Wave, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

Critical Reception:

  • Perry Seibert of TV Guide gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and wrote the film “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.”
  • Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club gave the film a B+ stating that ” Bolt is the studio’s first film since Lilo & Stitch that feels like it’s trying to recapture the old Disney instead of aggressively shedding it in favor of something slick and new. And yet it comes with a healthy cutting-edge Pixar flavor as well.”
  • Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times wrote that “[Bolt] also has an intriguing plot that is kind of the family animation version of the Jim Carrey-starring The Truman Show .”

Legacy: Bolt was nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It lost to WALL-E.


Video Games: Disney Interactive Studios produced a video game based on the film, released in November 2008 for Nintendo DS, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. The game focuses on Bolt’s fake TV life, not the actual storyline. A separate game was released for mobile phones, and a third game, RhinoBall, was released as an application on Apple’s App Store.


My take: There are a lot of fun sequences in this film:


  • The opening TV sequence
  • The cats teasing bolt
  • The train bit
  • The begging scene
  • The shelter escape

It’s a lot of good sequences strung together with an okay plot. However, it did make me laugh. Just about everything Rhino said cracked me up. We also have another example of the clueless protagonist much like Buzz Lightyear. I laughed right out loud when Bolt was reading Dog Fancy magazine

Next Week: SQUIRREL!