The Disney Revival has arrived. After months of watching the likes of Chicken Little and Treasure Planet, the time has finally arrived for my almost weekly journey through the Disney Animated Canon to be very enjoyable. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but here is Bolt to save the day – just like in the film.
It’s been about a decade since I last saw Bolt so I did worry, prior to watching it, that it wouldn’t live up to the memory that 19-year-old me held. Thankfully it has and, possibly because of this challenge, I really think I enjoyed all the more. This isn’t Disney at it’s best and, when I reach the end and make a ranked list, it probably won’t be within the Top 10 – but it was definitely a good watch and a bellwether of the great films to come.
So, what or who got us to this point? Well, that would probably be due to animation genius (who is now disgraced due to allegations of sexual misconduct) John Lasseter. Bolt is the first Disney film where he receives an executive producer credit, with the remaining films (until Frozen 2) being released with him as Studio Leader. It cannot be an accident that this uptick in quality, and the better targeting of a film’s content and humour to all ages, happened when Disney brought him over from Pixar to oversee their output.
Between Bolt and Meet the Robinsons (which I want to post a reminder here about my actually liking) there has been notable improvements in the animation, the stories ability to focus and on the voice direction. We’re not quite at the level of Zootopia, but that’s going to be technological restrictions rather than the cost restrictions that you see in Chicken Little.
Also, the story is just there. The idea of a pet becoming separated from their owner is not a new idea (hell, Disney have done it multiple times with their Homeward Bound films), but Bolt found a way to being new life to it. They manage to modernize it and make it more interesting to a modern audience not by updating the technology and cultural references (as lesser films in the Disney canon have done), but instead bring in some interesting psychological ideas of a deluded TV star dog having to come to terms with his own normalcy in a scary and uncontrolled world.
There are times, however, where Bolt begins to follow the conventional story beats (like the 12 minute before the end argument that actually makes no sense in terms of character development), which smack you in the face every time it happens. It’s going to take a film or two more before that habit, built as a crutch in the years of the recent wilderness, subsides – but until then it does know off half a star from any final ranking.
Even though there are still 10 films left on the list to see, there are only two of them left that are traditionally animated. After next time, having watched The Princess and the Frog, it’ll just be the 2011 version of Winnie the Pooh left. It’s weird to think that after years of one way of animating, I’m nearly seeing it’s death in Disney’s movies. But that’s something worth mourning in a future post.