Dir. Chris Williams and Byron Howard (Walt Disney) -- 3.5 STARS

Why, might you ask, would a mature college student such as myself want to see an animated movie about a delusional dog? Do you mean to say that the promise of witnessing Miley Cyrus’s feature film debut isn’t enough? Admittedly, “Bolt” is no “Finding Nemo,” but its bevy of quirky characters, endearing sense of humor and one awesome hamster are enough to make it worthwhile—if only for the kid in you.

Bolt (John Travolta) is an American white shepherd whose owner is a teen celebrity named Penny (Miley Cyrus). Together they star in a TV show where Bolt uses his many superpowers to protect Penny while she rescues her dad from the evil Dr. Calico and his cat minions. The catch—to the endless amusement of the cats on the set—is that Bolt has never been outside the studio and thinks that the show is real.

All is well until a ruthless network executive shows up one day and proclaims that, surprisingly, a show about a girl saving her mad-scientist dad with the help of her trusty canine sidekick is not doing so well in the ratings among 18- to 35-year-olds. This finicky demographic is sad, and they want the show to stop being so damn upbeat all the time. The director caves and films a cliffhanger in which Penny is kidnapped. Bolt escapes to find her, ends up on the other side of the country, and must find his way back with the help of some new friends.

As it turns out, some of the show’s biggest fans are hamsters. One delusional hamster in particular, a toothy fellow named Rhino (Mark Walton), lives inside a plastic ball in an RV park. There he meets Bolt and Bolt’s prisoner-cum-friend Mittens, a stray cat. Rhino saves the day and the movie. “Fully awesome!”—the rotund rodent’s favorite phrase—is probably the only appropriate way to describe him. His mannerisms and one-liners are characteristic of the best Disney sidekicks, such as Dory from “Nemo.”

“Bolt” is the first animated Disney movie created specifically to be viewed in 3-D. While this makes for some great action scenes of Bolt blowing up scary robots, the effect is mostly gimmicky. Projectile objects and Bolt himself fly at the audience, leaving me to marvel at how much braver children have become since I was five.

As usual, the movie makes a few nods to the 18- to 35-year-olds in the audience. One of the highlights is a sequence in which two gay pigeons appear with their personal assistant, Billy, in tow. They pitch an episode idea to Bolt: aliens. When they think he’s on board, one of the pigeons frantically whispers to the other, “Don’t freak out, this is how you blew it with Nemo.”

“Bolt” is, for the most part, predictably tame. Penny is as saccharine as any Disney princess. Bolt has a requisite crisis of faith in which he questions her love, but this doubt is fleeting—he is reassured after about five minutes. The movie achieves emotional depth, however, in the scenes with Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino. After Bolt discovers he never had superpowers, it’s up to Mittens to teach him how to be a real dog. She instructs him to put his head out the window and stick his tongue out—something he does reluctantly and awkwardly. This moment—one of the best and most understated of the film—makes a refreshing statement: sometimes it’s better simply to be normal than a superhero.

Talking about the benefits of keeping his canine star in the dark, the director in the movie says, “I see a depth of emotion on his face the like of which has never been captured on screen before.” If this is the goal of the movie, “Bolt” has failed. The recent string of stellar animated films like “Wall-E and “Ratatouille” have raised the bar too high. But if you’re still interested and you fall into the 18-to-35 age range, I have some advice: don’t expect too much, don’t think too hard, and roll with the hamster. It will be fully awesome.


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