Bolt, the first 3D computer-animated film from Walt Disney Animation, has a lot going for it. The premise-a TV star dog doesn't realize his "powers" are a sham-is as fresh as any. A gripping, action-packed opening sequence is equal to any car chase involving Bourne or Bond. And there's a genuine, heart-tugging finale that only the suits at Disney could manufacture.
The trouble is the film borrows more from its predecessors than it strikes out on new ground. Bolt has Finding Nemo's wisecracking seagulls (this time pigeons), a Cars-inspired cross-country drive and a sidekick hamster stolen from A Bug's Life.
All these faults would be excusable, except WALL-E proved that animated films don't have to be derivative. Bolt is a step backward, right down to the weak voice-casting of Miley Cyrus as Penny, the dog's owner and co-star.
Cyrus has many talents, but the 15-year-old's deep, husky voice is all wrong (John Travolta as Bolt is a better match). The best animated films don't need to drop in stunt celebrity voices to fill the multiplex.
But Bolt is an above-average 90 minutes and will elicit chuckles from kids and their parents alike-no small task. The pigeons are a riot, along with Mittens, a stray cat with a healthy inferiority complex.
There's a solid message, too-something about accepting who you are, staying loyal to family and never giving up. Standard stuff, but Bolt sneaks it in without being overbearing.
It's an enjoyable film and probably one of the holiday's better family-friendly bets. But if you're looking for a truly transcendent 'toon, rent WALL-E instead.