Posted on March 24, 2009 at 8:00 am

Bolt (voice of John Travolta) thinks he is a super-dog. He and his “person,” Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus) spend their days battling the evil, green-eyed Dr. Calico (voice of Malcolm McDowell), who has captured Penny’s scientist father and has a lair defended by dozens of black-clad henchmen. Thank goodness for Bolt’s loyalty and courage and for his thunderous super-bark and heat vision, too!

But what Bolt doesn’t know is that none of this is real. He’s an actor on a television show and his “superpowers” are special effects. The director insists that Bolt must believe that it is all really happening in order to make his performance, well, believable. “If the dog believes it,” he explains condescendingly to “Mindy from the network,” “the audience believes it.”

Bolt accidentally gets shipped to New York, and for the first time finds out what the real world is like — and what he is really like, too. Even without the super-bark and the steel-melting stare, he has to find his way back to Penny.

This feels like a transitional film, as Pixar takes over Disney animation, and the seams show. Bolt is a likable character, but bland next to those around him, especially the pigeons, who deserve much more screen time, and those who accompany him on his road trip, a scraggly cat (voice of Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and an excitable hamster (animator Mark Walton). Bolt’s dilemma may be confusing to younger children who are still unclear with their own notions of what is real and what is pretend and may not be interested in the problems of a child star with a pushy agent. But in its best moments, it gently shows us how Bolt’s discoveries parallel those of a child in learning self-reliance.

Children have an ever-evolving sense of what is real and what is pretend. Developmental psychologists believe that it is not until age nine or even older that they are sure about whether what they see in movies and television is really true and still engage in “magical thinking” that parents can approve of (that Santa lives in the North Pole) and that is more troubling (that they caused parental discord or separation). Being able to repeat “it’s only pretend” does not mean that they understand what it means. “Bolt” is a movie that reflects this aspect of childhood.

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3D Animation For all ages

13 Replies to “Bolt”

  1. Movie Mom, I was planning on taking my young daughter to see this movie because it looked really funny and cute in the previews. But I am a little worried that I will be dissappointed yet again based on the only other non-pixar film “Chicken Little”. My daughter liked it, but it was very schmaltzy and the majority of the jokes were aimed at kids. So is this movie extremely similar to Chicken Little? Thanks!____-Kate

  2. This one is pretty schmaltzy, too, but does not have the schoolroom setting or parent-child issues of “Chicken Little” and is more of an adventure. It has some inside-Hollywood jokes that will not be of interest to kids and some slapstick that will seem silly to parents. I think your daughter will like it and I think you might, too.

  3. I am interested to read your preview of Bolt. This film has gotten some fairly good reviews. You seem to present some areas here parents will want to pay attention. I do think that,as we did with our kids who watched with fascination Power Rangers and TMNT, this will provide a vehicle for pareants and kids to talk about “real”. And what better place to begin than with “The Velveteen Rabbit”. Balancing that book with all the superheroes – “human” and canine alike – makes for a good discussion.
    Another question – and this is from a canine lover – wht are there no super cats? There are wiseguy cats, and tag-along cats. But why no cats as superheroes? Maybe they are simply too smug and self-involved.

  4. I am wondering just how violent this movie is. My sons are 5 and 7 and I try not to let them see violent images. Will I be horrified by the amount of violence in this film? Will they need to cover their eyes the entire time or is it pretty brief/mild? Is it as violent as, say, The Incredibles? More violent?

  5. Thanks for writing! As I said in my review, there is a significant amount of violence including explosions and apparent dead bodies shown to be stunts for the television show. There is also a scary “real” fire. The violence is different from “The Incredibles” and does not take up as much screen time, but I’d say 5 and 7 is probably too young for the film.

  6. MovieMom, if you’d “say 5 and 7 is probably too young for the film,” why did you rate it as appropriate for “Kindergarten-3rd grade,” or roughly ages 5-8??

  7. The age range options I have with the interface here are very rigid and so the results can often be misleading. And of course every kid is different — I had one who was never rattled by scary movies and another who was. It had nothing to do with their ages. It had to do with their temperaments. So the best I can suggest is that you read the descriptions of the material in the movie to determine how your children might respond. Many 7 year olds would be fine with “Bolt.” Some 5 year olds would be, too, But since I don’t know your kids, when asked I will always err on the side of being protective.

  8. I found the movie very scary. My 8 yr old covered her ears for the first half hour (grnated she has snesory issues), for one thing — the soundtrack of the movie-within-the-movie was that loud.
    The issue of abandonment is brought up and anyone with kids who are anxious over that (such as some adopted kids) should be cautioned against it.
    Yes, I know it is “only” animation, but there are also so many really dangerous things depicted — dog and cat tied together by a leash, and leaping on and off of high-speed vehicles — and there is a very scary scene as well.
    Perhaps I am ultrasensitive, but I found myself crying a couple times and wanting to cover my kids’ eyes or ears, several times! (I did not).
    If your kids are highly sensitive, you might want to rethink this one.

  9. Thanks so much for this very helpful comment. As I noted in the review, the movie is intense and has a lot of violence and is not for people of any age who have sensory issues, especially in 3D.

  10. I love the movie Bolt! I have seen it more then 7 seperate times.
    I love Bolt when he was a puppy! Not to get me wrong i love Bolt grown up.
    I love the cat Mittens!
    I am glad that this movie is rated PG because for kids 7 and older because of hurt animals and a scarey fire scene.

  11. I took all 3 of my kids to see Bolt. It was a bit scary in parts but only my 6 year old was mildly bothered by it. She covered her eyes a few times but was otherwise fine. This coming from a kid who left Santa Claus 3 in tears from fear of Jack Frost.
    So if your kid is sensitive or easily scared pass on this one otherwise it’s a cute movie.

  12. bolt is not as every one thinks ive watched it over 200 times and i was surfing the web looking at bolt things and found this page the movie is not really scary its more knowing whats going on because this should be rated G in my opinion but the movie is good for all ages its not bad in language like school year thats not true the worst part language wise is saying dr callco will make pennys dad spill his guts (not literally) and if you want to look at my youtube channel you will see there are lots of kids and people who like the movie bolt thanks

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