Disney’s first 3D animation, made under new head John Lasseter, is a likeable, dynamic and seductively characterised family entertainment. Directed by newcomers Byron Howard and Chris Williams, it’s a romantic tale of the sentimental education of the titular dog, which is graphically inspired by the larger American shepherd and modestly voiced by John Travolta. In ‘Truman Show’ fashion, Bolt is the deluded super-hero star of a hit live-action children’s television show, replete with a snazzy lightning logo emblazoned on his flank. As Bolt is separated by accident from ‘his person’, the equally innocent child-star Penny (Miley Cyrus), and joined by an alley-cat (a sassy, touching Susie Essman) and couch-potato Hamster (a cherishable star-turn by animator Mark Walton), he learns to be ‘a real dog’.
One of the pleasures of ‘Bolt’ is how, without taking itself too seriously, it combines adventure with ideas and how the thoughtful, sympathetic script has fun with the reality/fantasy divide in a way that makes perfect sense to small kids, while still providing engagement and amusement for older siblings and adults in tow. Visually, it’s clever and stimulating: there are some excellent eye-level 3D effects, a nice pastiche of ‘bullet-time’ (part of a running theme throughout the film ‘discussing’ the relationship of live-action to CGI) and – elatingly – a pair of beautiful ‘helicopter’ shots. Borrowing a practice from Pixar, the main feature is prefaced by a short film, one of car-dealer’s son Lasseter’s own CGI spin-offs from ‘Cars’, the lovely, Japanese-accented ‘Tokyo Mater’, which charmingly combines petrol-head nostalgia with ‘Speed Racer’-esque kineticism.