Bolt (Disney character)
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|Created by||Chris Williams
|Voiced by||John Travolta|
Bolt is a fictional White Shepherd and the eponymous protagonist of the 2008 animated feature film Bolt. In the film, he is voiced by John Travolta. His journey and the personal evolution it provokes in him is core to the film's main themes.
In the film, he has spent his entire life from early puppyhood on the set of a television show, kept isolated from the outside world. In the show, Bolt must use his superpowers to save his owner and co-star Penny, whom he loves dearly, from the evil Dr. Calico. However, Bolt believes that he actually has the superpowers possessed by his television character, a delusion the directors of the show maintain by tricking Bolt into thinking his adventures are real, in order to make his performance more authentic.
The character Bolt was created by Chris Williams and Byron Howard together with the chief character designer Joe Moshier. Much of the inspiration for the character was provided by John Lasseter who also oversaw Bolt's visual development. Aside from the film, Bolt also appears in the direct-to-video short film Super Rhino, the two video games Bolt and Disney Infinity, the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom trade card role-playing game and has made cameo appearances in Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled and Big Hero 6. Bolt's character received mostly positive critical acclaim from film critics and became breakout-character, leading to strong sales of merchandise and toys following the film's release.
Characterization and Design
The character known as Bolt initially started out as a red, bipedal dog named Henry as designed by Chris Sanders. He, in difference to Bolt, would be aware of the fact that he is an actor. Henry, as well as Sander’s idea for the movie, was eventually scrapped when John Lasseter and some colleagues from Pixar reviewed the project. The character was subsequently redesigned and made into a White German Shepherd, although changes were done to the muzzle, ears and overall body-structure to give the character a more distinctive and expressive appearance. To make Bolt's movement seem more realistic and in-line with that of real canines, the animation department studied the body language and locomotion of real white shepherds and utilized virtual bone-structure in the CGI-models. Personality-wise, the new Bolt would be more naïve and insecure conveying more pathos than Henry. At the same time, the art department worked to give Bolt a whimsical nature with a pose which excels confidence, thus allowing the character to have a contrasty personality and a body language which reflects that.
John Travolta was chosen to do the voice work for Bolt. Despite a history of turning down voice over offers for animated characters, he agreed to provide the voice for Bolt as he, according to the actor himself, "indicated as the right character". In an interview with CBS, Travolta explained that he was intrigued with Bolt's personality after reading the script. "When I read this script and saw this character, so guileless, so kind of naive and fun and touching I just said to myself; maybe this is the one to do". When recording the dialog for Bolt the animators would film Travolta's facial expressions and use them when sketching the storyboard and animating Bolt's mimics. Travolta took inspiration from his performance from earlier action films such as Broken Arrow and Face/Off, mixing it up with a certain naiveté and guilelessness suitable for Bolt's character.
Bolt's breed is not defined in the movie but the animators based him on the White German Shepherd Dog, his big, erect ears and long, brushy tail being the most prominent indicators. Most of the time, his ears are standing vigilantly erect over his head which matches his intent personality and sharp profile, and allowed the animators to emphasize his expressiveness as they leave his face uncovered.
Bolt is a medium-sized dog with a height at the wither of 50 cm and a creamy white coat. Bolt has a strong neck with thick, double-coated fur, which is raised when excited and lowered while running, much like a real shepherd dog. The difference between Bolt’s back head and neck is not very defined. Bolt's appearance is "softer" than a normal German Shepherd with a more curved outline, thick, rounded legs and domed forehead. The "normal" Shepherd has longer, thinner legs and a more meager appearance.
Bolt’s coat is a creamy white and his fur differs in thickness as it is short haired over his belly, flanks and back, and a bit thicker over his neck. The animators worked much with Bolt’s fur so that it would seem soft and fluffy with every hair moving in a realistic way. Special animation software was used by the production team to animate and render Bolt's more than 200 000 hairs. During the making of the movie, having Bolt’s white fur getting smudged and dirty was a bit of a challenge according to the animators.
There has been some disagreement in the Disney fan community as to whether Bolt is indeed a White Shepherd (as suggested by early promotional material where he was erroneously referred to as a German Shepherd) or a Berger Blanc Suisse. Supporting this theory is the fact that the Blanc Suisse variate tend to be smaller with a more square-cut muzzle which aligns more with Bolt's in-movie appearance. Bolt's breed is never mentioned in the film. Joe Moshier, Bolt's main character designer, has indicated that Bolt is loosely based on a white German Shepherd puppy the animation team studied during the character's early design phase, but was never intended to be any one specific breed.
From early puppyhood, Bolt has been playing the lead in a popular TV-show where he is a genetically altered superdog with superpowers such as the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes and the iconic “superbark”. His mission is to protect his owner Penny, a child actress, from the evil villain Doctor Calico. Although the dog’s love and concern for Penny is authentic, everything else about his life is, unbeknownst to Bolt, entirely fake. The programme makers are intentionally setting up the show with extensive scenography and real-time special effects in a way to condition the young canine into believing the fiction around him is real and that his owner is in immediate danger. For the experiment to work, Bolt is not allowed to get a glimpse of reality and is therefore locked in a trailer inside the studio where he is allowed to spend a few minutes together with Penny after each shooting.
When the director ends an episode with a “cliff-hanger” in an attempt to boost ratings, Bolt escapes his trailer convinced that Penny is in mortal danger. In the process, he knocks himself unconscious and ends up in a shipping box packed with Styrofoam, and is subsequently shipped to New York City.
Stranded in the real world, Bolt initially and unsuccessfully attempts to recreate the stunts from the TV-show, repeatedly hurting himself in the process. He eventually realizes that his sense of a reality, and therefore his sense of identity, has been severely screwed, although he still holds on the hope that Penny's love for him was real and not faked. With the help of Mittens, an abandoned street cat, and Rhino, a fearless, TV-obsessed hamster and Bolt fan, who help him recognize his limitations and come to terms with his self-realization, he embarks on a journey back to Hollywood where he is eventually rejoined with Penny after saving her from a burning sound-stage.
Bolt is depicted in the film as having a very complex and multifaceted personality. When in the company of Mittens and Rhino, in the beginning of the movie, he is earnest, intent and introverted. The gradual process of self-realization did at times make him hostile towards Mittens who attempted to convince Bolt that he is delusional. However, after his epiphany, Bolt opened up to Mittens and trusted her to help him adjust to reality and teach him how to be a normal dog. When in the company of Penny, his owner, Bolt behaves much like a normal affectionate, albeit very protective dog.
Despite the handicap provided by his delusions, Bolt is portrayed as a highly intelligent character who is quick to adapt to new environment and find solutions to problems. When he can’t break into a U-haul truck with his heat vision, Bolt instead distracts nearby workers with a coin and sneaks in. When Bolt rescues Penny from the burning building, he is able to locate a ventilation shaft and bark to alert firemen outside, before succumbing to smoke inhalation.
During his entire journey, Bolt remained loyal to Penny, fixed on the goal of returning to her. After his brush with reality, Bolt also beings to open up to other characters in the film. His ability to trust other characters, despite the hardship he has been through is depicted as one of his most admirable characteristics.
Reception and Cultural Impact
The character Bolt was met with generally positive critical reception with critics praising the animators' work with his body language, as well as Bolt's personality and expressiveness. A.O. Scott, writer for the New York Times said that "Bolt is a cute enough little fellow and a winning personality and a nice voice" and that "his physical gestures and expressions turn him into a memorable, irresistible character". A critic for the Daily Express wrote that "the wonderfully expressive features on Bolt make him feel almost real".
Many reviews praised the detailed and realistic animation of Bolt. The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph wrote that "Bolt's fur is startlingly real, and animal gestures are faithfully reproduced: Bolt savaging his favourite plastic toy, raising a front paw slightly when he hears a distant unidentified sound". Movie critic Brian Tallerico wrote "Bolt is DAMN cute and shockingly well-rendered when it comes to his always moving hair". Many critics also praised John Travolta's voice work with Bolt: critic Jeffrey M. Anderson who praised the actors "earnest and gentle voice performance". Colin Covert, writer for StarTribune.com, wrote that "The dog's expressions are heart-rending as well as hilarious, and Travolta's vocal performance is utterly winning".
Other critics noted on the important values embodied by the character's process towards self-realization. "Bolt's disastrous attempts at using his powers off the set get laughs at first, but they give way to important lessons about accepting your limitations while still believing you are special." wrote Sean O'Connell from FilmCritic.com.
Josh Taylor from CinemaBlend, wrote "This is a beautiful, big, epic story constructed for the sole purpose of saying something incredibly simple and emotional. Your dog loves you. Go home and give him a hug".
Bolt was also included as the "recommended pet dog" in FilmCritic.com list of "The best Fantasy Creatures”. Another example of the characters cultural impact was the "Superbark Contest" which took place in Finsbury Park, England, shortly after the movie’s release. Inspired by the titular character's iconic superbark, dozens of owners rounded up their dogs to try to break the record for loudest bark in history. More than 50 dogs participated and a represent from Guinness World Records was on hand to oversee the contest. A white American shepherd dog, who was handpicked due to his striking resemblance to Bolt, broke the record with a 108 decibels and became a Guinness World Record holder. Disney’s Gavin Quirk was quoted saying: "The Big Bolt Bark has brought pride to the nation." Since 2009, Bolt character performers has been spotted semi-regularly at the Walt Disney World theme park in Florida.
Bolt has made minor cameo appearances in various animated feature films produced after 2008, including but not necessarily limited to: Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph and Big Hero 6, as well as the Disney games Disney Infinity and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. A slightly altered version of Bolt's animation rig appears briefly in the opening of Disney's Prep & Landing-series.
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