And so this long neglected segment makes its triumphant return with a look at a different kind of talking dog (specifically, the conceit that different species of animals can talk to each other, but not to people), that would be Disney’s latest computer-animated blockbuster, “Bolt,” which Mrs. TD, Loquacious Pup and I saw as family fare. [While I won’t totally spoil it, I may say too much for those who are planning to see it, so… be advised!]
Mrs. TD provided me with a spot-on analysis of this film that reflects a level of deep-thinking so subtle that the film-makers working for Disney could not possibly have been conscious of all of it while they were making this film. In short, the movie reflects a fable: while Americans export our fantastic myth-making associated with our own omnipotence, even when stripped of those fantasies, our values and team-work (and grit and pluck… and quite often, our luck…) are still sufficiently worthy in their own right to get us through, and are worth fighting for. Calling Frank Capra, anyone!
The conceit of Bolt is that the title pooch (voiced by John Travolta… what better casting for a movie about fantasies of omnipotence than a Scientologist?) has been genetically altered to have super-powers (super-speed, super-strength, laser-heat vision, and a super-bark capable of unleashing a sonic boom) as he assists “his person,” a girl named Penny (voiced by Disney’s current uber-darling Miley Cyrus) in her battle against “The Green Eyed Man”(the envy of the rest of humanity, perhaps?) to recapture her father, who has been kidnapped to reveal the secrets of whatever it is he does to create super-pooches (American freakishly unnatural DNA tampering like genetically modified crops, as well as dogs?).
Alas, we learn quickly that Bolt is a television show, but with a Truman Show sensibility where the dog isn’t in on it, to keep him totally motivated as an actor: the dog buys it, believing his super-powers are real (kind of like the American people).
But then, as some of the stage-villain cats taunt the dog, the dog manages to escape from his studio trailer, and gets himself trapped in a box shipped from (uber-fantasy) Hollywood to (uber-reality) New York, where he emerges. In our fair city, Bolt encounters pigeons, who direct him to a local tough-gal alley-cat, who Bolt decides is an agent of The Green Eyed Man. Bolt dragoons her on a cross-country quest to return to Penny in Hollywood (reminiscent of Trains, Planes and Automobiles and other wacky trans-con comedies), picking up a t.v.-addicted hamster in a bubble along the way in an RV park in Ohio (does it get any better than this?).
Along this trip, the alley-cat demonstrates to Bolt that, in fact, he does not have super-powers, and worse still, in service of the fantasy of omnipotence, he has actually been stripped of what it is to be even a dog: he has lost skills like begging for food (including doggy tricks like rolling over and playing dead), or the simple joys of drinking from a toilet or riding with his head out the window… things which he must re-learn under her tutelage (she herself was an abandoned house cat). Bolt is disappointed, but even when he realizes he is but an actor, his love for Penny is still worthy of continuing the mission (of returning to Penny) to completion. The hamster, meanwhile, literally in his bubble, who has seen Bolt on t.v., still buys into the fantasy. And the (reality based) cat (who happens to be black… and partially white… like our new President-elect… or is that going just too far?) stays with the mission as well… see above re:”values worth fighting for.”
Without spoiling the ending, I will just say that it builds on and completes the themes beautifully: one observes the values of grit and pluck, team-work, and a love worth fighting for.
As our nation reels from being bogged down militarily (“don’t start a ground war in Asia”) and economically, and it is clear that our national fantasy (“the world’s only super-power”) is being sorely tested, it would be nice to know that under it all, under that fantasy, there really is something at our core that makes us special, that gets us through (even if our vaunted ability to inflict violence on others fails us.) Just brings a tear to the eye.
This has been… Saturday Talking Dog Blogging.