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A Girl and her Dog

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is a dog who has it all. Heís got adorable canine good lucks, a sweetheart owner (Penny voiced by Miley Cyrus), more kibble than a dog pound, and super powers that would make Batman cower in fear. Bolt finds himself saving Penny from the "green-eyed man" and his henchmen day in and day out. The one chink in Boltís armor is that he actually doesnít have superpowers and his owner isnít really his owner, sheís an actress.

Boltís adventures saving Penny are the fodder for a television show that Bolt doesnít realize heís the star of (The Truman Show, anyone?). In short, Boltís just a dog. But ignorance is bliss and Bolt is blissful. However, a twist of fate separates Bolt from his "owner" and he finds himself thrust into the real world.

Boltís naivetť gets him into a plethora of comical and catastrophic events as he painfully comes to grips with the fact that he may be less than invincible. Fortunately, Bolt crosses paths with a world weary and cynical alleycat, Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman) who becomes an unwilling sidekick as Bolt tries to find his way back to Penny.

Mittens is baffled (and a bit unnerved) by Boltís delusions of grandeur, but canít help finding his earnest and steadfast devotion to Penny a bit charming. Ironically, Mittens finds herself reluctantly teaching Bolt how to act like a dog. Keeping Bolt "grounded" to his hero roots is the overzealous Bolt-worshipping hamster, "Rhino" (voiced by Mike Walton). While Mittens serves as a reality check for Bolt, Rhino has seen FAR too many episodes of Bolt on the "magic box".

What really carries Bolt for the majority of the film is the witty banter and relatively complex characterization of Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino. This odd troika never fails to entertain even in the direst of circumstances. Writers Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams deserve much of the credit for this. These three pets are anthropomorphized in vivid fashion and are remarkably three dimensional for the most part. Bolt is haunted by the realization that heís not a superhero. Mittens is haunted by a past loss. The depth of these characters will likely engage many parental units in attendance.

Independent of solid character construction and consistently well written dialogue, Bolt has a story broad enough to appeal to engage a large audience. Kids will be more than entertained by the various antics and misadventures of Bolt and his gang en route back to Penny. Adults in the audience will appreciate the metaphorical journey Bolt goes through from hero to "mere mortal" back to hero. Additionally, there are a number of tongue in cheek jabs at The Matrix, Mission Impossible, and just about every action film made in the past ten years.

Rounding things out is solid and striking animation; I managed to catch Bolt in 3D. But, itís questionable whether or not this added dimension really enhances the film. Truthfully, there were more than a few moments when the film seemed fuzzy and out of focus. This could have been the fault of the projectionist. Setting aside this minor quibble, Bolt is a solid blend of humor, heart, action, and drama. Were it not for Wall-E, Bolt would likely be the best animated film of the year. Itís also one of the better films released this year.