Andy Bockelman: 'Bolt' electrifies family audiences

In a world where hamsters roam free and Styrofoam packing peanuts are considered Kryptonite, super dog "Bolt" reigns supreme.

Endowed with superpowers thanks to experimentation, Bolt (voice of John Travolta) is a canine that lives to serve and protect his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus), in her endless quest to save her father (Sean Donnellan) from the villainous cat-lover Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). At least, that's what he thinks.

Bolt's powers and the lightning bolt he dons on his side are all part of a television series run by an uncompromising director (James Lipton), who insists the only way to captivate audiences is to make his furry star believe everything on the show is reality. This method works until the story calls for Penny to be captured.

Thinking his owner in mortal peril, Bolt bolts from the set and accidentally manages to get himself shipped from Hollywood to New York City. His first action is to take an alley cat (Susie Essman) hostage and force the "agent of evil" to direct him to Calico's lair.

It does not take long for Bolt to realize his heat vision and sonic super bark are total bunk. But as he, his prisoner and a hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton) make their way across the country, he finds that he might not need them.

Travolta is in fine form as the deluded dog, who by his own admission is a bit discombobulated by the real world, where he experiences hunger, pain and simple dog pleasures for the first time. Disney kid Cyrus is enjoyable in a role not terribly different from her own "Hannah Montana," providing vocals along with Travolta in the sweet song, "I Thought I Lost You."

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Essman is humorous as facetious feline Mittens, alternately amazed and amused by the obliviousness of her traveling companion. However, Disney animator and writer Walton easily steals the show as the voice of excitable, ball-bound hamster, Rhino, Bolt's No. 1 fan, who longs to be a hero himself someday.

Catching up after a year heavily laden with superhero movies, Disney goes the opposite direction with their story. The hero element only plays into a small part.

As the animal trio treks across America - following the map on a Waffle House placemat - the film takes on the tenets of the classic road movie. It may not have the Route 66 appeal of Pixar's "Cars," but it has its own charms in getting where it's going.

Of course, the best part of this is that it does not try to take on too much. Without added subplots and the excessive scenes heavy in so many lesser-quality animated films, the single-minded story is as funny, exciting and heartwarming as it should be.

"Bolt" keeps up the tradition of Disney excellence that has wavered slightly in their shaky foray into completely computer-animated, in-house-produced cartoons. If this is the start of a trend, then one can only follow suite with Rhino and say, "Let it begin!"

Now playing at the West Theater.

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