Never mind Sasha, Malia and their pick for presidential pooch. After the slightly saccharine "Bolt," every little girl in America will get that puppy she wants.
Taking advantage of the "Hannah Montana" juggernaut, Disney cast Miley Cyrus as the voice of Penny, a damsel in distress. And keeping the acerbic, pop-star asides to a minimum, Cyrus portrays Penny as smart, caring, idealistic and the envy of every child in the audience.
Penny stars in a TV action series along with her best friend Bolt, a "superdog" with superpowers and grit to match. As voiced by John Travolta, Bolt is playful, devoted and immediately irresistible.
More important, because his entire world consists of the Hollywood set where his show is shot, Bolt is also a tad gullible. He is convinced that he is actually performing the derring-do of his alter ego. And just to make sure we get the idea, the evil, anti-dog villain is aptly named Calico. As Mindy, the cool-headed, sensible network exec, Kari Wahlgren offers a welcome foil for the over-the-top emotion and thrilling action.
After Bolt is inadvertently packed up and shipped to New York, reality sets in as his powers mysteriously fail him. On his way back to Hollywood, thinking Penny is in danger, Bolt gets teased by Mittens (Susie Essman), a jaded alley cat. Incredulous that anyone could be so wide-eyed and trusting, Mittens takes full advantage of her guileless new friend.
With her "Curb Your Enthusiasm" cockiness on full display (minus the foul language), Essman is a delight, delivering each sly line with the purr-fect blend of superiority and cool. And while Bolt believes all his TV adventures are real, Mittens tries to keep him from getting hurt by his own heroics.
Mittens initially comes off like an evil yet witty Mob boss. But as she sheds the protective shell of sarcasm and realizes her genuine, selfless traveling companion will not abandon her, she warms up.
Adding to the fun, they encounter Rhino, a hilarious hamster (Mark Walton), devoted fan of Bolt's TV series and self-described "master of stealth." Trying to cheer the discouraged dog, Rhino assures Bolt that he is legendary and declares, "The impossible can become possible if you're awesome." Coming from a roly-poly caffeinated TV addict, this actually works.
With just enough destruction to keep our attention, Bolt is entertaining for all. There are jokes for the parents, and the story is laden ever so gently with lessons about loyalty, friendship and never giving up. The film's music includes the Cyrus/Travolta duet "I Thought I Lost You." Thanks perhaps to the fantastic 3-D effects, the scary climax may prove a little too intense for toddlers.
While the animation features touches of "The Incredibles," the action is reminiscent of both "True Lies" and "Lassie Come Home." In keeping with this wholesome aura, Mittens assures Bolt, "Being a regular dog is the greatest gig in the world."
Surely the same holds true for being a regular kid.