Bolt (2008)

Rated PG Our Rating: V-3 ; L- 1; S/N- 2. Length: 1 hour 36 min.

and you will know the truth, and the truth will
make you free.
John 8:32

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.
Proverbs 18:24

Bolt and his person Penny.

2008 Buena Vista Pictures

When we first see super canine hero Bolt ( voiced by John Travolta), he and his human Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus) are battling the forces of evil. Just when it looks like the bad guys will win, Bolt uses his super powers to save the day in a spectacular way. And then we learn that all of the action and thrills are taking place in a massive film studio. At the end of the adventure, Bolt retires to his trailer home, and Penny leaves. She knows what Bolt does not, that everything was staged, Bolt’s seemingly super powers the result of studio special effects. Thus the film begins as a canine Truman Show.

However, we do not have to wait until the end of the show for the hero to discover his situation. Through a chain of incidents started by two cats out to tease him Bolt leaves his trailer and the studio and ventures into the outside world, encountering along the way some friendly pigeons, a cat named Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman), and many others. We laugh as Bolt tries to use his supposed super powers to no avail, and even more so when Mittens has to teach him to behave like a real dog.

The latter process begins when Bolt feels hunger pangs for the first time, his food needs having hitherto always been met on a rigid schedule by studio staff. He and Mittens are on the road where food is not so easily available. After explaining hunger, the cat tells Bolt to go to the nearby trailer park and “use the dog face.” Bolt is puzzled, so Mittens explains that this means begging. Bolt is still confused, so Mittens directs the dog through a series of poses. “There yah go! Tilt up! Erm… down! Now a little smile! Nehh… lose the smile. Drop your left ear. Your other left. Okay, the other way was better. Now drop ‘em both! Hold it. Right there. And ever so slightly look up.” Bolt complies, looking up with his ears down. Pleased at last, Mitten exclaims, “Soup is on, baby!”

Perhaps one of the most touching scenes is when they are traveling in a car and Bolt has to be coaxed into doing his “dog thing.” This consists of sticking his head out the window and feeling the delight of the wind rushing by him. Bolt is discovering a new world, one of freedom, in sharp contrast to the old controlled world of the studio. But freedom comes with a price, as Mitten says to Bolt, “The real world hurts, doesn’t it? For the first time in your life you’re hungry, you’re bleeding.” But the hurt of the real world is ameliorated by the presence of friends, Bolt discovers, his friendship circle expanding beyond Mittens to a rhino, a hamster in a clear plastic ball, and some pigeons. It is they, despite their cynicism about humans, who help Bolt in his long journey to re-unite with his person Penny.

This is another animated film that adults can enjoy with children, maybe not equal to the Pixar films, but nonetheless filled with funny and insightful moments.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What illusions does Bolt live with at the beginning of the film? How is this similar to The Truman Story in that it is a story of liberation from an old life of bondage. What illusions have you been freed from? How were those illusions comforting as well as enslaving?

2. Compare this to other road shows. What about always happens to the characters in this genre?

3. There is a delightful scene about seeing, or not seeing the obvious: Pigeon 1: [after seeing Bolt and Penny go out to play] Does that dog look familiar?

Pigeon 2: Nope. Never seen him before in my life.

What is on the huge billboard facing them? How have you at times missed the obvious or what is in front of you?

4. What can the following scene teach a child about friendship? Bolt and friends go to the animal shelter to rescue Mittens, and the cat says, “Bolt? Wh… Wha, what are you doing here?” Bolt, “I’m busting you out.” Mittens, “You – You came all the way back here… for me?” Why is Mittens so surprised that Bolt has come for her? Do you think she has had a real friend before? What does Proverbs 18:4 say about friendship?

5. The rescue scene brings up the topic of grace, in terms of unexpected or undeserved acts on behalf of another. Where else do you see grace in the film? What about Mitten’s words near the end when Bolt is leaving the sound stage?