Saturday, September 15, 2012

Disney's Bolt

Disney had a hit with Chicken Little, and a subdued one with Meet the Robinsons. It was time for them to hit it out of the park, and that meant carrying a good gross and a good critical reception. The last time they were able to do that was Lilo & Stitch. So, who better to step up to the plate than Lilo & Stitch director, Chris Sanders. Sanders came up with a original story called American Dog about a TV dog named Henry who gets lost in the Nevada desert and has to team up with an one-eyed cat and a radioactive rabbit, both of whom want a home, to get back to his owners, all while thinking that he is still on television. John Lasseter is creative manager now for Disney and unlike with Meet the Robinsons, he is there from the beginning of this film. Sanders presented the film to him in the form of early cuts and Lasseter, like with the early cut of Meet the Robinsons, was not impressed. Lasseter, along with other directors from Disney and Pixar gave him a few points to work on. Sanders resisted the changes being made to his film and was subsequently replaced by Chris Williams and Byron Howard. The team tackling the film was then given eighteen months to complete the film instead of the customary four years. That's a ton of pressure on the team, and we'll see if it worked out for Disney later in the post.

The name of the movie was changed to Bolt, as was the main characters name, and a few tweaks were made to Sanders' story. The main character dog would still be a TV star, but would think it had super powers for most of the film. Bolt thinks that the girl in the show, his actual owner Penny, is being kidnapped, so he tries to rescue her, only to be accidentally sent to New York City in a box. He meets not a one-eyed cat, but a two-eyed one, although this cat is probably much more narcissistic than the original one, and instead of a radioactive rabbit, he meets a star-struck hamster in a rolling ball. It's just a little bit different from Sanders' story, but I can see how these changes were a little better than the original. At least for the general public. I would have loved to see a radioactive rabbit as a main character in a Disney film.

Bolt tackles a few different issues. Bolt kind of represents the naivety in all of us. Bolt believes that he has special powers, and that all of life is this dramatic and magical place. It's only when he meets Mittens the cat that he begins to be clued into the fact that he is in fact normal, and life is not as magical as he thought it is. Mittens the cat represents the pessimistic and more realistic side of humanity. She never for a second believes that Bolt is anything special and goes out of her way to try and convince Bolt of that fact. She even tries to convince Bolt that his owner, Penny, no longer loves him and has replaced him. We come to find out that Mittens was abandoned by her owner, leading her to become bitter and prone to raining on others parade. Rhino the hamster is the TV obsessed portion of our population. The funny thing is that even though he is pretty diluted himself, he provides the most worth in the trio and is the voice of reason and optimism. I cannot help but draw many comparisons between this movie and all three of the Toy Story movies. In the first movie you have Buzz Lightyear who is completely convinced that he is a Space Ranger. It takes failure for him to realize that he is in fact just a toy, but the pessimistic Woody doesn't exactly help matters out for him. I find Woody and Buzz's relationship to be eerily similar to Bolt's and Mitten's. In Toy Story 2, Jessie is abandoned by her owner which leads to trust issues, and in Toy Story 3, Lots- O'-Huggin' Bear is also abandoned by his owner and realizes that he has been replaced. He spends the rest of the movie seeking to convince others that they are not wanted by their past owners. So a lot of funny similarities between Bolt and the Toy Story series.

Unlike the last two films in the Disney canon, Bolt was made in 3-D in the first place, and didn't have it added after the fact. CGI films just seem simpler to make. I just always assumed that they didn't need hand-drawn pictures to guide their work since they had computers, but in fact, the crew for the movie depended heavily on the hand-drawn storyboards for inspiration and guidance. A lot of work went into making certain aspects look believable. One such aspect is the look of Rhino moving in his plastic ball. The animators bought a real life hamster named Doink and filmed it fro m beneath as it walked on a sheet o f Plexiglas. To make the scenery seem more realistic, the crew went out to the different spots in the film, just like in the olden days! The scenes in the trailer park in Ohio, the San Francisco docks, the New York street s, and the building of Las Vegas are all based off of real locations and structures. The animators were further influenced by the paintings of Edward Hooper and early seventies movies when they tackled the film's visual look. Anne and I don't really see it, but apparently it's there.

Bolt has another one of those "All-Star Casts." Playing the main character we have John Travolta (Pulp Fiction), who I honestly just can't get used to hearing as Bolt. It just seems weird! But it still works, apparently! Chloe Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows) voiced the younger version of Penny, though she had done all the voice work for the character before Disney replaced her with Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana and other stuff I don't care about). I feel a little bad for Moretz, but she's seems to be doing OK for herself now. I'm sure Disney completely flipped their gourd when they realized they could get Miley Cyrus to voice one of the main characters. Like, seriously, their eyes turned into dollar signs and everything. Playing the "villain," Dr. Calico, is none other than Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange). I like this casting, as McDowell has the right voice for a menacing character. Other famous actors voicing in the film include comedian Nick Swardson (Reno 911), James Lipton (Inside the Actor's Studio) as the Director, Randy Savage ("OOOOHHH YEAAAAAHHH! SNAP INTO A SLIM JIM!") as a Thug, and John DiMaggio (Futurama) as Saul.

Anne and I have both seen this movie and at least I thought it was decent. Anne apparently hates it. She just hates Miley Cyrus' smokers voice. I can't really blame her. Apparently though, a lot of people found it to be more than decent. Critics raved about this one. It has a 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, placing it above most of Disney's canon. That has caused a bit of a stir, but apparently Disney got the ingredients right for a critical and high grossing hit. Most critics found it to be a return to Disney's standard and a film both kids and parents can enjoy. It debuted in theaters in Winter 2008 and though it ranked third on its opening weekend, it climbed up to second in the next and more than made up for what Disney had put into the film. Worldwide the film made $309 million. Nothing to sneeze at. One last interesting note about this movie is the name of it in other countries. It is called Lighting in Croatia, Thunder in Bulgaria, and Volt in France, Hungary, and Russia. But there is a specific reason that it's named that in Russia. It turns out that the word bolt is a vulgar word for a man's...well....you can probably guess what it is.

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