Monday, November 24, 2008
Bolt -- heroes and hero-worship
Directors: Byron Howard & Chris Williams, 2008.
The new Disney release, Bolt, is formulaic in its plot-development and happy ending, referential in recalling a number of movies, and yet a whole lot of fun for the family. With their 2006 acquisition of Pixar, some of the magic of that studio has rubbed off. Though not in the class of WALL-E or Ratatouille, this adventure is akin to The Incredibles, though just a tad inferior (due to the limited social commentary). This is clearly the best Disney movie in years.
It starts by showing us the most adorable white puppy you have ever seen. "Cute" does not do justice to Bolt (John Travolta). Penny (Miley Cyrus) falls instantly in love and becomes his owner, or his person as he later refers to her.
Cut to 5 years later and we find Penny's father kidnapped and Bolt and Penny involved in trying to rescue him. The ensuing chase scene is like something from the opening of a James Bond film. Exciting, nail-biting, Bolt is seen to be a super-dog with super-powers. He can run faster than a speeding bullet. He has heat-ray vision. He can stop a moving truck. And his bark is something to behold. It can literally raise the roof. There's even a shot using "bullet-time" made famous in The Matrix.
Unlike a Bond movie, however, this extended opening has everything to do with the story. As it ends we find Bolt taken back to his home . . . a movie trailer in one of the sound stages. All this is for a TV show. To make sure that he does not find out that he really is a normal dog with no super-powers the show's director keeps him cooped up between shows in this trailer. This is reality TV with a twist. What is real for Bolt is actually unreal, just a TV show. Shades of The Truman Show with a dog as the star.
When Bolt somehow escapes from his trailer and is accidentally packaged up and sent from Hollywood to New York, he has to learn to survive in the harsh real world. He thinks he still has super powers but this TV star has a lot to learn about life. Since the show was left on a cliff-hanger with Penny kidnapped by the "green-eyed" man (Malcolm McDowell), Bolt is bent on a mission to rescue her.
The rest of the film is the story of Bolt's journey from New York across the country back to Hollywood. In New York he is taken to the mangy alley-cat Mittens (Susie Essman), a Don Corleone-like figure who extorts food from the local pigeons in return for protection. She is likely to make them an offer they cannot refuse. But Bolt sees her as one of the evil creatures in league with the green-eyed man, and takes her prisoner, making her help him find Penny.
En route they meet Rhino (Mark Walton), an overweight hamster who inexplicably lives in a plastic ball. Rhino is a TV-obsessed mammal who idolizes Bolt and wants to accompany his hero, even if it means "eating danger for breakfast."
For all these speaking creatures, who begin as enemies but end as friends, as all Disney movies play out, the pigeons steal the show. The running joke through Bolt is the presence of regionally accented pigeons. The initial set of pigeons are the extorted New Yorkers who bring Bolt to Mittens, who think they recognize the super-dog but are as small-brained and forgetful as their real-life relatives. In contrast, the Hollywood trio of pigeons are sharp screenwriters ready to pitch an idea to this actor-dog after they recognize him.
The animation in Bolt is excellent. Especially in the peripheral aspects like the blades of grass or the characters' hair the artistry is amazing. What brings added interest to Bolt is the fact that it is shot in 3-D. When things fly out, you can almost reach out and catch them. Fascinating for adults and kids alike.
As much fun as Bolt is, it also raises several issues deeply embedded in its narrative, each appropriate to one of the three animals on the journey. The first relates to heroes. Bolt is the star of his TV show and believes he is a super-dog. He expects to save Penny, his owner. But like Buzz Lightyear in the earlier Pixar film Toy Story he learns that he is no superhero. He is an ordinary dog. But in real-life there are no super-heroes, just ordinary people who can become heroes. Just as Bolt becomes a real hero, we can be to those we interact with. Even if it does not involve rescue from imminent danger, if we help those in need we can be heroes. We are here to serve and love those in our communities. Whether that involves mentoring a young boy in an inner-city school, coaching a girls' soccer team, or serving at a rescue mission, there are needy and hurting people desperately seeking a champion. You or I can be that hero.
Mittens, on the other hand, is no hero. She carries within her a secret, one she dares not share. It is her "power." She has been wounded before. We have all been wounded by others. How we deal with these wounds determines who we become. If we allow the wounds to fester we will become bitter, cynical, liars, who in turn hurt and wound others. We might feel it our "right" since others had done likewise to us. We can stop this cycle through forgiving, letting go of the past, and bringing truth to our relationships (Col. 3:13).
Rhino was a straight-up hero-worshiper. A fan, he wanted to follow his idol regardless of the danger it might put him in. He is an unlikely example of what a Jesus-follower looks like. For us, Jesus is our hero. He is the one we want to follow at whatever cost. If it means picking up our cross and facing death (Matt. 10:38); if it means walking into the valley of the shadow of death (Psa. 23:4); if it means staring into the face of Satan and not backing down (1 Pet. 5:8-9), we will do it if Jesus takes us there. Will we be like Rhino in our worship of the true hero, Jesus?
Finally, the best line in the movie comes from Rhino and points us back to the God of the miraculous: "the impossible is possible . . . when you are AWESOME!" Jesus tells us "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). He who could make a dead-man rise, a blind-man see, a mute-man sing can do all things. He is indeed awesome and worthy of our hero-worship!
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM