Plagiarism is a touchy subject. Sometimes you see two different peoples or companies create two different works within a certain time frame of each other and if there are enough similarities, it's easy to call "copycat." Remember when Dreamworks's Antz came out just a month before Pixar's A Bug's Life? Was one looking over at the other's desk instead of keeping their eyes on their own work? In most cases, unless it's completely obvious that one has the other's work in mind (like with "Kiara the Brave" and "Ratatoing" and those other shameless cheap CGI knock-offs), I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It's likely enough that Pixar and Dreamworks, both working with not-yet-perfected computer technology, both independently decided to create a movie using insects, since they'd make reasonably comfortable digital models - not having fur or hair, and all.
But then there's self-plagiarism, which is interesting in another way. Sometimes it's intentional. Or do we think Nickelback actually believes their songs each sound completely different? It can also be unintentional, merely a result of lapse of memory. If you, for example, are a comic strip cartoonist, you might go through so many used and rejected ideas that you might end up reusing an idea for a gag without realizing until later that you had already drawn the same bit earlier on. You can only expect him to memorize so much of his own work.
What I'm building up to here, is...
How the heck did John Lasseter not realize he'd worked on this story before? Bolt is, in a nutshell, Buzz Lightyear. He incorrectly believes he is something that he isn't. A cynical forced road-trip buddy (who initially hates him but warms up to and becomes friends with him) directly tells him what he really is, but he's in denial until testing his powers to no avail. He goes through a period of self-doubt and sadness before ultimately accepting his "real self" and realizing that he doesn't need those powers to be important to his human. Also, Mittens is Jesse the Cowgirl: She tells her friend how much she resents humans because of the one that left her but later on finds a new human and figures, "Okay, yeah, I do like the comfort of a person."
The parallels seemed awfully obvious to me. And I'm not saying Mr. Lasseter isn't allowed to reuse a major theme or two, but you would think he...wouldn't, if he was aware of it. The audio commentary for Up mentions that Russell was renamed from Lewis because of the release of Meet the Robinsons. And then later on there was the Pixar film not-to-be, Newt, which was scrapped possibly because of similarities to other companies' Rio and Alpha & Omega. So should Bolt have been canceled altogether had someone spoken up and said, "You realize, John, this is a lot like Toy Story and Toy Story 2? Remember, those blockbuster movies you spent years working on just a few years ago?"
I don't know.
I do think that, on its own, in a hypothetical TS/TS2-free vacuum, it works well enough. At this point (after seeing Wreck-It Ralph) I can say I've seen every D52 movie, and I do think this is the point where the gradually starts a new upward pull in overall quality. It's not exactly a classic, and there's not much about it that I feel I want to see for repeated viewings, but it's easily more engaging and fun than Meet the Robinsons, Chicken Little, Home on the Range, and Brother Bear.
I am fond of the overall design and...aesthetic, if I'm using that word correctly? Bolt, the character, is cute but not too cute and still believable as a ruff-and-ready (I'm sorry. No I'm not.) action hero. The TV action scenes are campy yet would still be very watchable even if it was a real show (but man, imagine what its budget must be like!) and provide a fitting contrast to the "actual" dramatic scenes. While I didn't cry at the scene where Bolt feels betrayed, it does tug at me a little more than I'm comfortable admitting. Hey, there's some nice subtle animation work there.
I don't have anything substantial to say about the music other than that Miley Cyrus sure does sing for it. That brings me to the voice casting. Which I'm afraid is a low mark of the voice. Miley, John, and Susie are just so...uninteresting, as far as voices go. Sometimes celebrity voice casting works wonders (I could go back to mention the Toy Story films). Other times, you think...hnm, no, your voice should've been a professional voice actor instead of a well-known actor. Looking on the bright side, at least Nicolas Cage wasn't one of the voices.
In the end, is it good? Is it bad? It's in a weird grey area where I can't quantify its quality with an actual grade or rating. As it happens the Disney Channel was apparently showing Bolt over the Thanksgiving holidays, and that does seem a very apt place for it. It can appeal to anyone in the family, and if it doesn't appeal to you, have some more turkey and cranberry sauce and try again.
HOME STATE PRIDE: Hooray! This is the first Disney animated (or general?) feature that undoubtedly takes place - albeit partially - in Ohio! Yaaay! Granted nothing particularly Ohiocentric is seen (aside from the state signage) or happens, and it really only serves as a rest stop for the characters. So I guess Ohio is a representative of...the type of place you would stop at for a little while before moving on to someplace more interesting? Erm. Anyway, GO BUCKS!
Favorite character: I know Amanda is going to pick them too, but come on: The pigeons. They're funny simply by acting exactly how a talking pigeon should act. Also, hey. Since I was talking about accidental copycatism, have you ever seen the Goodfeathers segments from Animaniacs? You know, with the Brooklyn-accented pigeons who are involved in a mafia-esque arrangement? I mean, okay, it's only natural that pigeons from New York would talk like tough New Yorkers. But I can't help but notice that there are three: one green, one blue and one purple. And one of them is named Bobby...
But if I had to pick someone else that Amanda isn't picking: The cutesy version of Rhino seen in the credits. You know, I think I'd like him even more if he was designed as a typically cute hamster. The idea of an adorable little bright-eyed hamster with that much gusto and fight in him - and named Rhino - is pretty dang beyawesome.
Least necessary character: I love how much detail went into creating the fictional franchise of Waffle World, but I feel like the mascot, whatever its name is, was a wasted opportunity to make a unique fictional mascot, because he looks too much like Spongebob Squarepants.
Overall: Though marred by an unshakeable sense of deja vu, Bolt carries itself well enough in its own right to prove that non-Pixar CGI Disney movies need not be complete wastes of good 1s and 0s.
*oh man why wasn't there a pigeon self-parody a la Super Rhino but with one of the pigeons being called Molt
This is SOOOOO a family movie. You know that movie I'm talking about. That family gathering when everyone has chatted as much as they cared to and now they all want some silence but there are kids in the room so Fast and Furious 5 would have naughty language and everyone's feeling too relaxed to want explosions anyway and the game is already over.
Wait are we experiencing Deja Vu? Yes, I'm talking about Thanksgiving just like Kevin did, but it's to prove a point. Just because the end result is the same doesn't mean you can't enjoy the somewhat different scenery. It's the exact reason that Dad sometimes hops in the car to go someplace familiar and says "Let's take the scenic route."
The one key difference here is that Bolt unlike Buzz learns to love being himself whether there was a person to find or not. Buzz on the other hand realizes that he is only complete when he has a person to love him. Bolt chooses to go back to his person in order to make her happy, but it seems clear to me that the hamster, cat, dog trio would eventually have found satisfying happiness out on their own.
Am I happy that they all came together as a family in the end? Sure. Do I think the same theme has been done better by other studios and in other ways? Sure. Does that mean I don't enjoy this particular scenic route? Nope. I like it just fine. I got to my destination. I only wish that I had a waffle at every rest stop on the way.
Favorite Character: Yeah, Kevin read me right. The New York Pidgeons. I almost wish that all the animals were played with more animalistic motions instead of anthropomorphized. I see that head bob just a little bit, I just GET the character. Not another word needed.
Least necessary Character: That agent. Let's just take his whole character and Pop. Put a pin in him.
Overall: Utterly inoffensive and with lots of predictable cute, but it manages to pull it off. I liked it!