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Bolt (character)

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Bolt-happy
Bolt
Background information
Feature films Bolt
Wreck-It Ralph (cameo)
Big Hero 6 (cameo)
Television programs
Video games Bolt: The Video Game
Disney INFINITY (power disc)
Park attractions
Portrayed by
Portrayed by
Animators Tony Fucile
Scott Robideau
Voice John Travolta
Scott Robideau (scratch voice in story reel)
Jacky Cheung (Cantonese)
Thorbjørn Harr (Norwegian)
Performance model
Designer
Inspiration Truman Burbank from The Truman Show
Shadow
Honors and awards
Character information
Full name
Other names Bolty, Boltz, Boltster, Wags, Cujo, Crazy Canine
Personality Earnest, caring, unselfish, loyal, trusting, kind, thoughtful, cheerful, alert, brave, headstrong, somewhat tough, slightly impulsive, altruistic, easily confused.
Appearance Medium-sized and slender mixed breed dog, white fur, black nose and pawpads, slightly muscular body, strong legs, round hips, trim belly, soft curves, long and bushy tail, slender muzzle, sharp teeth, big ears, expressive eyes
Nationality American
Species Dog
Birthday 26 January
Occupation Penny's dog
Alignment
Alignment Good
Affiliation
Affiliations Disney Dogs
Goal Protect others (especially Penny)
Be himself rather than a character to be consumed through media
Home Hollywood, California (most likely formerly)
Relatives
Pets
Allies His owner Penny, Mittens, Rhino, Penny's Mom, Mr. Carrot
Minions
Enemies Calico (television series only)
The Agent (unwittingly)
Likes Penny, Mittens, Rhino, Mr. Carrot, rain, fireworks, being a real dog, new experiences
Dislikes Harm toward others
Powers and abilities Super Bark, Super Strength, Super Speed, Invulnerability, and Heat Vision (television show only)
Weapons Teeth and strength
Fate Learns true self-worth, retires from TV series, and lives with his friends in a rural area
Quote "Well, you're right about one thing, Rhino. Mittens does need a hero, and I guess I'll have to do."

Bolt is the main protagonist from the 2008 animated feature of the same name. His character development embodies the film’s main messages regarding trust and loyalty. The character Bolt was designed and developed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard together with the chief character designer Joe Mosier along with his animator Tony Fucile  . Much of the inspiration for the character was provided by John Lasseter. The voice cast was done by John Travolta, whose earnest and gentle vocal performance did much to make Bolt into the character he is.

Development and Animation

The character Bolt changed much during the 18 production months, both when it comes to his physical appearance and personality. A series of directors, filmmakers and animators influenced the development of the character. The directors, Chris Williams and Byron Howard, premeditated the character from scratch, but relied heavily on the help from the design team led by chief designer Joe Moshier and various filmmakers who worked at the studio, such as Wayne Unten.  Even John Lasseter and John Travolta, the producer and the voice actor, affected the development of the character’s personality. John Lasseter, in particular, worked very closely with the directors to create an interesting premise for the character Bolt.

Character Role Development

“A dog is so pure. A dog is loving, loyal and practically nothing else. So to be able to take a character like that, who is so trusting, and put him into a premise like this really seemed to work. And to give him such an over the top, ridiculous, fictional frame work for his understanding of the world, and have all that go away, and then be left with one idea which he holds on two which is “I love my owner and she loves me” and that is somehow just so *dog*. So we kept referencing back to that idea, that this is a movie about trust. A movie about the risks and rewards that comes with giving your heart to somebody, and it argues that it is worth the risk.”- Director Byron Howard.

After the release of Meet the Robinsons, Disney animators and filmmakers had an extensive training program to prepare for the work on what would later be called "Bolt". At the time, former director and storyboard artist, Chris Sanders was in lead of the project. Chris Sanders had started working on a character, a dog, whose overall appearance and personality was predominantly different from the “current” Bolt. Sander’s character would be named Henry and, in difference to Bolt, he was an actual actor who would one day find himself lost in the Nevada desert. Henry would meet a radioactive hamster and a one-eyed cat, two characters that would help him find a new home. When John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer at Disney in 2006, he demanded to see Chris Sanders project. John Lasseter and his colleagues from Pixar viewed a couple of early cuts of the film, but they were not impressed. They suggested a series of changes to improve the character Henry and his story. Chris Sanders refused and was, therefore, replaced by two new directors, Chris Williams and Byron Howard. John Lasseter was quoted saying that “Chris Sanders is extremely talented but couldn't take it to the place it had to be”, adding that “the story was too quirky for his own good”. John Lasseter took over management for the project as the chief producer, working very closely with Chris Williams and Byron Howard to improve Chris Sanders project. Many changes were made to both the story and the character Henry, who was now renamed "Bolt". Byron Howard and Tony Fucile were put in charge for the animation and design of the dog while Chris Williams worked on the story-line. Under the new direction, a new dog emerged, more similar to the Bolt we know. John Lasseter was spending most of his time shaping up the plot, providing the animators with his vision of who the character was supposed to be, as well as his role in the movie.

The new story emphasized Bolt’s relationship to his owner, making the entire plot more centered on the typical canine characteristics, which according to the directors, were innocence, loyalty and trust. According to director Byron Howard, the new Bolt was more true to what a dog is in comparison to Chris Sander's Henry:

“A dog is so pure. A dog is loving, loyal and practically nothing else. So to be able to take a character like that, who is so trusting, and put him into a premise like this really seemed to work. And to give him such an over the top, ridiculous, fictional frame work for his understanding of the world, and have all that go away, and then be left with one idea which he holds on two which is “I love my owner and she loves me” and that is somehow just so *dog*. So we kept referencing back to that idea, that this is a movie about trust. A movie about the risks and rewards that comes with giving your heart to somebody, and it argues that it is worth the risk.”

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According to Chris Williams, Bolt's relation to Penny is important for Bolt's characterization, making him a lovable and sympathetic character.

John Lasseter approved of Byron Howard’s and Chris William’s new concept, pleased with the potential for ironic value in a story about a dog who doesn’t know how to be a dog, as well as character development. “The thing that appealed to me the most about Bolt from the very beginning was the potential for growth in the main character”.

As the development Bolt’s personality and role in the movie continued, it became apparent that Bolt would have a certain “duo-personality”, being a contrasty mix between his adventurous action-hero persona, and his more sensitive, loving and sympathetic side. John Travolta was chosen as they thought he would bring the right blend of toughness, humor and appeal needed for Bolt’s voice.

The actor was actually chosen among several other alternatives, as he is someone who has had a lot of success playing tough characters in his career. In the animators opinion, one of the reasons he has been so successful is because there is an innate “sweet quality” in him, and therefore, as bad and mesmerizing as a character can be, he is still making them likable. This ability was very desirable amongst the storyboard artists and filmmakers, as they thought it the perfect combination for playing a dog who thinks that he’s a very threatening, menacing figure but underneath it all is really a normal puppy who loves his owner.

We were really fortunate in having John Travolta voice our main character,” said Chris Williams in a recent interview. “It plays to two of John’s biggest strengths. It was a thrill working with an icon who’s been in so many great movies, and I think his performance really brought something special to the character of Bolt.

Voice Work

John Travolta took a liking to the character Bolt, even before he started recording his voice. Despite being asked several times over the years, the actor had never worked with any animated feature before, and was consequently comparably inexperienced in the field of voice casting. Bolt was the first animated character that he agreed on providing the voice for. According to the actor himself, Bolt was the first time that “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”.

John Travolta also said in an interview that he was already in touch with his “inner dog” when Disney contacted him, which, to some point, helped him fit the role of Bolt;

“Whenever anyone asks you like what kind of animal you remind yourself of, people always choose the dog for me, and you know I didn’t disagree with them. “ When asked in an interview with MoviesOnline, whether he felt like he can relate to Bolt, Travolta answered yes, saying that he has some very close friends that he, much like Bolt, is very loyal to. “I am a big guy in that area and loyalty of commitment to my friends”, the said in the interview.

Travolta voice Bolt

Providing the voice for Bolt would prove to be a long and complicated challenge for Travolta, partly because it took time for the actor to find a suitable voice for the character. In order to find a suitable voice for Bolt, Travolta took inspiration from his performance from earlier action movies such as Broken Arrow and Face/Off, mixing it up with a certain naiveté and guilelessness suitable for Bolt’s character. As a result, John Travolta’s vocal performance for Bolt would distinguish itself compared to the voices for other characters such as Mittens and Rhino, in that it was serious and unmanipulated rather than cartoonish, and hence, more true to Bolt’s earnest nature. According to John Lasseter, this distinct performance was desired for Bolt’s voice, and that’s why they rather than choosing an experience voice actor, decided to pick an real actor. Actor John Travolta provided the voice for Bolt.

“I think one of the things that we are able to tap into with Bolt are a lot of the great roles that John has played. He’s played real heavies, real tough guys and he’s always great. And I think that one of the reasons for that is that there is, if you don’t mind me saying this, sort of an innately lovable, genuine, sweet side to John that always is there, and so I think we knew that he was going to be the right guy to play Bolt.”

In many ways, the character Bolt was animated after Travolta’s voice, expressions and his personal interpretations of the dialogues. Bolt’s mimics in the movie was inspired by Travolta’s performance and the animators would, when working with the storyboard, take inspiration from and sketch after John Travolta’s facial expression. His facial expressions were therefore taped during the recording sections by a video camera. As such, John Travolta would give the animators different takes of every dialog which at times could mean up to 20-30 different versions of the same sentence for the animators to choose from. A “Chinese menu” as John Travolta called it.

The effort of providing the voice for an animator character was very different from the earlier voice work John Travolta had done for commercials, and he relied on guidance from the other filmmakers, not least from Chris Williams who worked closely with Travolta to assure that his voice work was pertinent to his vision of the character. “Chris Williams was a revelation to me, his affection for Bolt was infections and I was so tickled by everything we were doing and his choices. The collaborative effort was huge”, John Travolta said about the director.

Character Design Development

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As Bolt’s personality developed, so did the design of the character. Bolt’s original appearance, as the dog Henry created by Chris Sanders, was very different from the current Bolt. Henry was given a more distinguished, cartoonish look and red fur. The character would also be biped, meaning that he would stand on two legs and look much like a human being. He would also be wearing clothes. "Henry" from Chris Sanders' American Dog was smaller, red and had a more cartoonish appearance.

As John Lasseter took over management for the project, Henry was scrapped and replaced with an American White Shepherd Dog . This character was of a slightly bigger size than the Bolt we know, but shared some attributes, such as the natural four-legged appearance and shepherd-like ears and tail. He would also have a longer, more pointy muzzle. This character was illustrated by director Paul Felix and the Art Department who worked to create inspirational paintings and concept art. However, the idea of having a Shepherd as the main character came from Chris Williams, who had decided that he wanted to main character to be an American Shepherd rather than just “a Pongo with different ears”.

However, as the storyboard work began, the design team and chief animators Wayne Unten, Tony Fucile and Joe Moshier decided to once again change Bolt’s appearance. The more realistic American Shepherd design didn't fit in the movie’s backdrop. A lot of the animators were also annoyed with Bolt’s paws and ears, thinking that his ears looked too long and his paws were too small. Bolt was redesigned to be smaller and sturdy in contrast to the earlier, tall and feeble design. He was also given a more adolescence appearance in order to look more vulnerable and innocent, with bigger paws, shorter legs and bigger head. This new design was more suitable for Bolt’s character and was also more appropriate for the action scenes. His face was also changed, with a slightly wider snout and a more expressive and distinctive profile.

Visdev img 9.jpg

Early concept art depicting a taller, bigger and more realistic Bolt.

According to Joe Moshier, this change was necessary for Bolt to be “Bolt”:

“The storyline was very similar. He was still a TV hero dog, but, the way we were designing it, he was an adult dog. Proportionally, he looked bigger, much longer legs. He just looked like he would be successful and accomplish any goal he wanted to achieve. Storywise, his physicality didn't lend itself to much pathos and doubt. So, we decided to make Bolt look slightly more adolescent. That’s why he’s short, now, for a White American Shepherd. He looks like his task would be a little more challenging at his size.

The new design was still very much inspired by the white American shepherd. Joe Moshier and the other animators decided to bring a White American Shepherd to the studio to draw and analyze. The Shepherd dog was suitable inspiration for Bolt's character design due to its long, pointy ears, a trait that Joe Moshier tried to caricature in order to allow the animators to emphasize Bolt's expressiveness. Another shepherd-like feature was the long, elegant tail, giving the character a more graceful appearance. Bolt’s design was of particular importance to the design and animation studio, and the final refinement of the character took several months. Cartoon characters need distinguished appearances in order to be memorable, and since personality usually dictates the look, Joe Moshier and the design team wanted Bolt’s silhouette, shape and portions to reflect his personality. They wanted Bolt to look confident and sure of himself, but maybe a bit naive.

Bolt1-copy.JPG

Joe Moshier's take on Bolt as a smaller, cuter and more vulnerable character.

Finally, when the refinement of Bolt’s design was finished, it was up to Jim Kim to flesh out the design team’s drawing and sketches in animatable poses. Jim Kim worked as a visual development artist and was very important in the project. Thus far, the character Bolt was nothing more than sketches and drawings, so in order to meet the challenge of transforming Bolt into a computer generated figure, Jim Kim started working with Joe Moshier’s different designs, putting them in different orthographic poses, experimenting with the mimics. He worked to give Bolt his communicative facial expressions and expressive body language.

The last stage in Bolt’s design development had to do with canine movement and skeleton studies. To make Bolt’s movements seem natural and realistic was of utmost importance to the studio and John Lasseter even required the animation team to use visual references during the animation. Therefore, the team watched and analyzed live-clips of dog movement and behavior, and Dr. Staurt Sumida, a professor in biology from California State University in San Bernardino, gave the team circa a dozen lectures on animal mechanics, muscle and bone structure, as well as canine body language and behavior tendencies.

"“Animating a dog is quite complicated. Instead of two legs you have four, and the overall motion is something the audience is very familiar with, so it has to look perfect for everyone to believe in it. In the case of Bolt, the directors wanted a very subtle and natural performance as well, so you have a dog that needs to express human emotions while keeping his animal movements true to his nature. Capturing the little nuances of John Travolta’s acting performance while retaining the same spirit and energy found in real dogs was a challenging assignment. “- Animation Supervisor Wayne Unten.
—{{{source}}}
He also returned as much as four times to the studio to review how the animators applied his lessons during the animation of Bolt. Throughout the entire production period, Bolt was animated with naturalistic dog mechanics in mind. When animating Bolt's model during the production, one of their many goals was to successfully marry the realistic, natural body language of real dogs with Bolt's more anthropomorphic facial expressions, to make the character dynamic and expressive. In this project, supervising animator Wayne Unten played an important role, and once again, John Travolta's recorded mimics were used during the animation of Bolt's mimics, while Bolt's overall movements and canine body language reminded natural and realistic.

By now, after months of redesigning, the character Bolt looked and behaved like we remember him from the movie. The detailed animation of the characters in the film required a huge step up in quality for Walt Disney Animation Studios compared to previous titles and a lot of effort was put into details, like how Bolt's fur would fold under his red dog collar, and cover parts of it as his moved. As such, the production of Bolt ended up being a very expensive project and required much effort from every single animation department during a stressful few months, and more than half of the animation crew was let go as soon as the animation of the film was finished.

Personality

According to executive producer John Lasseter, the film's emotional center is Bolt's journey and the personal evolution it provokes in him. As such, Bolt has a very contrasty personality which varies and develops much in the movie. However, the character does have some general attributes. He is an earnest, often intent individual who despite his erroneous view of the world, is very adaptable to new situations and places and quick to find solutions to problems. And like most canines, he is very loyal to his owner, his “person”, who he travels through America to be with. Bolt's unyielding loyalty towards Penny, and his ability to trust her despite the hardship that he has been put through, and learn to trust the characters he meets on his journey, is portrayed as one of his most important and admirable qualities. He is also courageous. In the end of the movie, Bolt risks his own life to save his owner Penny from a burning building.

Characterization

While these are his most fundamental attributes, Bolt personality develops a lot in the movie, and the character shows a range of different traits and tendencies. In many of the early scenes, Bolt is earnest, stubborn and acrimonious, seemingly indifferent to everything that does not have to do with his beloved owner. And yet, Bolt can be a remarkably caring and sympathetic individual. Bolt also displays a range of different behavior, as he seems lively and impulsive in certain situations, while still giving the impression of being very few-worded, introverted and sad in other situations. Bolt, being a dog, also features some typical canine behavior. In some scenes in the movie, Bolt is playful, as when he is learning how to be a dog and plays with Mittens. He is also affectionate, warm and loving, particularly towards Penny. 

Having spent 5 years isolated in the TV-studio, Bolt is often socially inapt when meeting and interacting with different characters in reality, such as Mittens and other dogs. His career at the TV-series has left him with a view of himself as a very important individual, a self-image that becomes evident when he speaks of himself and his mission to find Penny. Rescuing Penny is his only priority during the first half of the movie, and it affects his personality in many ways. His compulsive view of the world becomes apparent when he meets Mittens, an abounded alley cat who he callously captures thinking that she is another evil, feline minion of The Green Eyed Man. In the beginning of the movie, Bolt takes the dominating role, dragging the protesting cat with him, unsympathetically ignoring her objections. But Mittens has a profound effect on Bolt's character development, as she, upon discovering that Bolt is from a TV-show, tries to explain to Bolt that he isn't a superdog, sarcastically pointing how his perceived superpowers tend to fail him repeatedly. Bolt ignores her logic but it becomes increasingly difficult as the dog learns lessons of pain and humiliation on the way. However, he is subconsciously holding on to his delusional view of the world, perhaps because giving up on his superhero persona would make him feel vulnerable or powerless. Bolt's stage of denial stands for an important chapter in his character development. It is possible that Bolt's sense of pride might be one of the many things that keep him from listening to Mittens and realizing that he is “just” a normal dog, but the character never gave the impression of being arrogant. He was, however, strong, earnest and relentlessly focused.

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Bolt and Mittens

Despite their initial conflicts, Bolt and Mittens’ relationship would come to serve a very important role in Bolt’s character development.However, in contrast to this side of his personality, Bolt holds another, sweet-natured, innocent and loving side. The side of him that he only used to trust Penny with, but that he eventually allows to shine through his tough exterior as he gets to know Mittens and other characters. Upon finally giving up on his superhero persona about halfway into the movie, his personality changes fundamentally. This is mostly evident through his attitude towards Mittens, whom he know treats with respect and consideration, even going as far as letting her teach him "how to be a dog". Bolt’s ability to give up on his pride, expose himself and his vulnerability to Mittens, asking her for help, serves as one of the movies most important values, namely the importance of trust. According to the creator, Chris Williams, this kind of unyielding trust is typical for the canine race:

"if you’re trusting and you give yourself over to somebody, you definitely become vulnerable and you can be hurt. But it’s necessary to take that risk in order to find real fulfillment in life. A dog really embodies that and that’s why we 'love them”

The theme of “trust” is essential throughout the movie, as Bolt must trust, not only Mittens, but also Penny who he yearns to be with again. Trusting that Penny’s love for him was real and that she misses him, is what keeps Bolt going throughout his journey. Eventually, Bolt must learn to trust himself as well, acknowledging his limitations without letting that make him doubt what he is capable of. When Bolt rescues Penny from the burning building, he does so knowing that he does not have any superpowers.

During the last part of his journey, Bolt was forced to balance the recognition of his newly accepted limitations: that he is just a normal dog without superpowers, while still believing that Penny’s love for him was true, that he is irreplaceable and special to her, and that he is capable of a great many things. In this struggle, Bolt was and remained alone as Mittens did little to help his brittle self-esteem. Instead, the sardonic cat tried at several accessions to convince him that Penny’s love for him was just as false as the rest of his former life, hence hurtling his confidence. And while Rhino always looked up to Bolt, he never understood that Bolt’s superhero role was just a part of a TV-show, let alone the complex of his personality.

Bolt's character development in the movie, together with the contrast between his tough, earnest personality and his innocent, caring sides makes him a very deep character, but one that can be hard to fully define and understand, much unlike Rhino the hamster who stands for the comical relief in the movie. Despite being the main character, Bolt also has comparably little screen-time, and less dialogs to explain his emotions, further adding to the inscrutability of his character.

Personality and Traits

As he develops so much in the movie, very little is known about Bolt's actual personality, interests, and traits. He seems to be a very fervent, lively and impulsive individual, often seen performing dangerous stunts, even in the real world, like when he jumped from a bridge onto a speeding locomotive. Bolt is headstrong and tends to give the impression of being stubborn as it takes a lot for him to be beaten down, exhibited in the fact that he does not accept that he has no superpowers. However, it could be argued that Bolt is surprisingly quick to realize his understanding of the world is wrong, given the fact that he spent a majority of his life completely isolated from the real world.

In accordance to his superhero persona, he often gives the impression of being adventurous in the real world. However, it is unknown to which point Bolt enjoyed the fictional adventures he shared with Penny at the TV-studio and it is likely that his fear of losing Penny made the entire experience rather stressful for Bolt most of the time, rather than thrilling or stimulating. It is also likely that he saw his superpowers merely as a means to an end, and the end is protecting his person. In the movie, Bolt speaks very little of his superhero role and seems more focused on finding "his person". It would also explain why he is able to accept that he does not have any superpowers after only a few days, despite having spent almost five years in his delusional state.

At first, due to his delusional outlook, Bolt seemed theatrical and eloquent when speaking, often using articulate expressions, hyperbole and descriptive metaphors, much in contrast to Mittens who speaks with a certain street slang. Bolt referred to some of the feline characters as “degenerated creatures of darkness”, calling Mittens’ arguments about his lack of superpowers “preposterous”. He often came with typical, hero-like one-liners, including, but not limited to; “It ends here”, “You leave me no choice”, and uses terms like “classified” and "target acquired" quite frequently. Obviously not knowing what food is, he referred to whatever could cure the hunger-pains in his belly as “antidote” (much to Mittens' amusement). Upon calming down after his huge self-realization, Bolt speaks less and seems more introverted. Compared to Mittens, Bolt is a few-worded character and the animators relied heavily on body language to make him expressive.

Bolt is, as mentioned, a very caring individual who will stay faithful to his closest friends. His canine trust and guileless credulity makes him a susceptible target for other characters, such as the fast-talking, cynical Mittens, who, at times, manages to hurt Bolt's feelings. During the first part of the movie, Bolt reacted to Mittens sarcastic comments with frustration, and later, with a strong measure of disappointment and resignation.

When relaxed, he seems to possess the common dog-like playfulness, and he enjoys chasing sticks, playing with Rhinos hamster ball and digging. Sometimes, when the situation allows for it, Bolt likes wrestling and chewing on his favorite squeaky toy, Mr. Carrot. The brief scenes in the movie when Bolt is shown blissfully playing, learning how to be a "normal dog", are also the scenes in which the titular character seems the most joyful and carefree. Bolt also enjoys rainy nights, playing with garden sprinklers, and much like most dogs, he likes to stick his head out of moving vehicles to feel the wind against his face, and in difference to most dogs, he seems to like watching fireworks and is disgusted by the idea of lapping water out of toilets.

Physical Appearance

When designing Bolt, the animators started out with the White American Shepherd Dog with changes done to the face, muzzle, eyes and overall body. Bolt’s breed is not defined in the movie but his overall appearance has seemingly more similarities with the Swiss-originated Blanc Suisse than the American White Shepherd.

Bolt breed comparison

Two pictures showing a little more of Bolt’s body. Note his strong front legs, round hindquarters and the thick, double-coated fur around his neck.

Bolt is a medium sized dog, though he sometimes appears smaller than he is due to his big paws, relatively short legs and big head. Despite this, Bolt has a muscular, sturdy body with strong upper arms and thighs. He is, however, slender, with a trim belly, long elegant tail and flexible, agile body. Just like real Shepherd dogs, Bolt has a strong neck with thick, seemingly double-coated fur, which is raised when excited and lowered while running. The difference between Bolt’s back head and furry neck is not very well distinguished for some reason although this was most likely planned. Bolt's initial appearance is white with black details, such as his nose and paw pads. However, his fur usually seems to be gray due to his fur being dirty. His eyes are usually dark brown, but tend to seem auburn in bright lighting. 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.

Background

Very little is known about Bolt's past, other than that he was adopted in March, 2003 at the Silverlake Animal Rescue Center. In the movie Bolt looks and acts much like an 8 weeks old puppy. In the movie’s opening puppy scene, the audience is introduced to Bolt and his innocent, playful, curious and mischievous nature.

Bolt Puppy

Bolt as a puppy

Penny enters the locale and spots Bolt almost immediately. Bolt turns to Penny, smiling and wagging happily before being distracted by his own tail and starting chasing it. Penny adopts the puppy, hugs him and gives him is iconic dog collar.

The camera cuts to black and the next scene takes place 5 years later (thus creating a gap in his backstory). The audience is now being introduced to another side of Bolt's personality, namely his focused and daring action persona. He is now seen outrunning motorcycles and blowing up helicopters, playing the role of a stereotypical, nerveless super hero, although he believes it's all actually real.

Time at the TV set

It is soon revealed that Bolt plays the lead role in a popular TV show in which he is the star. In this series, Bolt plays a superdog who has been genetically manipulated to have superpowers, like super-strength, the super-speed, heat vision, and his legendary “superbark”. His mission is to protect his owner Penny from this vicious villain Doctor Calico and his evil cat minions and save Penny's father who has been held prisoner. Bolt, however, believes that his adventures are real and that his Penny, his actual owner and the little girl towards whom he directs all of his considerable love and devotion to, is in real danger. It turns out the directors are nurturing this illusion through the use of extensive stenography and live-effects, hence tricking the apprehensive canine, year after year, into believing that Penny is in serious danger and in need of constant protection. Everything is done in order to achieve a more realistic, genuine performance from the poor dog whose only real interest is to be with his owner. The directors seem very determined not to let Bolt get a glimpse of reality and are not concerned about the experiment’s effect on Bolt himself. 

Penny is a child actress and knows the drill but nonetheless returns Bolt’s love the best she can when she is not being pulled away by other workers or her greedy agent. After each recording session, at the end of each day, Bolt and Penny can spend some time alone in a trailer located inside the studio. Aside from the recording, this is seemingly the only time the two get to have together. Penny is forced to leave Bolt every night, alone, locked in the trailer, as the directors are very keen to keep Bolt isolated from reality, but she aspires to one day take him home with her and let him enjoy the life as a real dog.

In one of the early scenes, taking place inside the trailer after a recording session, the audience is being presented to the damage Bolt's hectic, career has done to him and his relationship to Penny. As the two characters finally have some time on their own, the dog is too worried and triggered to play or even eat. Instead, he is persistently guarding the door from the potential evils he is convinced might still be outside. Penny seems worried and tries to connect with Bolt by getting him to play or calm him down but soon must give up when her pink cellphone rings, reminding her that it is time to leave Bolt alone. Bolt, obviously knowing from earlier experience what the ringtone means, looks insistently at Penny and tries to block the door with his body, trying to keep her from leaving. Penny sighs saying, “You know I have to go” and hugs Bolt before leaving, who stands by the door after that she left, whining uneasily.

During the night, two cats from the TV-show visit Bolt's trailer, mocking him, harshly and inconsiderately playing on the fact that he thinks it is all real. Bolt does not realize that the cats are making fun of him, showing just how delusional he really is, gets frustrated when the cats ignore his threats and attempted intimidation. The cats leave him barking insanely.

When the directors decide to make a “cliff-hanger” in an attempt to boost ratings, Bolt does not get to rescue Penny at the end of the shooting. Instead, he is captured and dragged to his trailer where they try to look him in. Thinking that Penny needs to be rescued, he effortlessly tricks the guard and escapes the trailer. Spotting some props from the TV-set outside a window, he throws himself against the hard surface, convinced that he will be able to break through. Instead, he knocks himself unconscious and falls backwards into a box stuffed with packing Styrofoam which is then sealed and Bolt is shipped to New York without anyone knowing where he really is.

New York

Alone, lost and worried in the streets of New York, Bolt tries to find Penny while running down the crowded streets, convinced that she is still in danger. He tries to perform several of the stuns he used to do in his TV-series. At first, he tries to knock a man, wearing a suit, unconscious thinking that his appearance resembles that of Doctor Calico. But he fails. He also tries to jump over a road construction ditch but falls down the hole in a most anticlimactic manner. Upon crawling back up, he spots a truck carrying a portable toilet that looks like the container in which Penny was captured. He runs up in front of the truck, ready to smash his head into it, but the driver spots him and stops just before hitting him, saving his life. Bolt doesn't find Penny in the portable toilet but he meets a few dogs down the street, which he refers to as “brothers” suggesting that his career at the TV-series has left him with a view of all dogs as allies. However, he quickly becomes frustrated as the dogs seem entirely clueless rather than answering any of his questions, and he runs away when a well-meaning dog walker tries to put a leash on him. 

Bolt-disneys-bolt-5762963-800-448

Bolt and the pidgeons

In the next scene, Bolt accidentally gets his head stuck in a fence. Whilst stuck, three pigeons arrive advising him to turn his head in order to break free. Bolt is too frustrated to listen, growling that he needs to find his person. He tries to bend the bars and rock himself free, but to no avail. He eventually calms down and listens to the pigeons, and actually manages too break free when following their instructions. This event marks a milestone in Bolts character development, as it is the first time he has to listen and take instructions from other characters in the movie. The outcome was positive and serves as a behavior alternating “positive reinforcement”. This is also the first time he solves a problem through the use of intelligent problem solving rather than trying to use superpowers – a practice that Bolt will develop and use throughout the rest of the movie. Bolt's ability to solve problems indicates that he is both intelligent and extraordinarily adaptive, despite his delusional view of the world.

Desperate to find Penny, he is led to a sassy alley cat named Mittens who bullies pigeons out of their food.

Since Calico has a thing for cats, Bolt believes Mittens is one of his agents and threatens her by holding her off a bridge to tell him where Penny is. Deciding to play along after seeing Bolt's tags, Mittens directs him to Hollywood, but Bolt brings her along against her will.

Beyond New York

Along the way, Bolt notices his "powers" aren't working, but he brushes it off as a side-effect of the Styrofoam from the box he was shipped. He thinks that it's his kryptonite. He also experiences pain and hunger for the first time, and Mittens trains him to use "the dog face" to beg for food when they end up at an RV park. While suckering people out of their food, they meet a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino who is a huge fan of Bolt's show and (like Bolt) believes that it's all real. He convinces Bolt to let him tag along and leads them to a bridge over a railroad after Bolt states they'll "need a fast set of wheels." When Rhino mentions a "magic box", Mittens finally realizes Bolt is a TV star, but is unable to convince Bolt and they're eventually captured by animal control. Bolt breaks free but it turns out Rhino let him out of the truck's cage, and the lightning bolt on his fur smudges, which finally knocks the truth into Bolt, depressing him. His spirits are lifted just high enough after a brief pep talk from Rhino (who has yet to realize the truth himself) to give Bolt the will to manage to save Mittens from the pound.

Bolt-2-(2008)

The trio continue their journey and along the way, but Bolt is still hopelessly depressed and confused. She cheers him up at by letting him in on a "little-known cat secret" that cats hate dogs because they want to be dogs and she explains that being a dog is having the "greatest gig in the world".

Mittens teaches Bolt what it means to be a real dog and how to act like one, like playing fetch, sticking his heads out a car window, etc. and he is brought into reality with an entirely new outlook on life.

Towards the end of the trip, the trio find themselves in Las Vegas, but Mittens refuses to continue on and tries to convince Bolt that Penny is just an actress and doesn't love him. Bolt refuses to believe this and, in a rant, Mittens reveals that her owners abandoned her and left "their declawed cat to fend for herself". Bolt tries to convince Mittens that Penny is different but bitterly pushes him away and tells him to leave. Bolt says goodbye to Mittens and wishes her the best, and continues on alone. Rhino finds out that Bolt has left and unwillingly convinces Mittens to follow Bolt with another inspiring speech and they are off to LA as well. 

Upon arriving at the studio, Bolt is shocked to see Penny hugging a replacement of himself and leaves with a broken heart, not realizing she was acting and that Penny still misses him entirely.

Outside the studio, he runs into Mittens who explains to him she was in there when it happened and saw that Penny missed Bolt when she cried a little while hugging her mother. She tells Bolt that Penny truly does love him and misses him dearly. But this is cut short when Bolt then suddenly hears something and senses something's wrong and realizes that Penny is in actual danger. He, Mittens, and Rhino run to the studio, which is on fire due to the lookalike panicking and knocking over some torches, and Bolt just barely makes it inside. He locates Penny and they share a short heartwarming reunion which is cut short because they need to get out as soon as possible. Bolt leads Penny to an air-vent but she begins to succumb to smoke asphyxiation. Penny tells Bolt to save himself but he refuses to leave her side. Bolt realizes the sound echoes out through the vent and releases a loud bark through, alerting the firefighters their location before passing out. They're rescued and sent to the hospital, while Penny's mother informs their agent that they quit when he wants to exploit the incident for publicity purposes.

Bolt-3-(2008)

Bolt, as he appears at the end of his journey.

Some time later, Bolt's show jumps the shark with an alien abduction plotline with his lookalike, and a new Penny starring in the show (the show explaining the new Penny's different appearance as a result of facial-reconstruction surgery) while Bolt and Penny have moved to a rural home and neighborhood with Mittens and Rhino, who Penny has adopted, and Bolt finally gets to be a real dog and he learns that superpowers aren't needed to be a hero, but instead all a hero really needs is trust, loyalty, and courage.

Facial Expressions

Bolt’s ears are big, fluffy and stand vigilantly erect over his head. His alert ears are a trademark of his caricature and they don not only match his intent personality and sharp profile, but also allowed the animators to emphasize his expressiveness. They leave his face uncovered; making way for Bolt’s other expressive, facial features.

Bolt dog face

Bolt begs for food at the RV-park.

However, Bolt is obviously able to drop his ears, which he does when creating his powerful dog face. Despite being stiff, Bolt’s ears do change somewhat in accordance to his body language. When sad, Bolt’s ears seem to drop slightly, as he lowers his head and his posture starts to slouch. When eager, alert or listening, Bolt’s ears will stand vertically up, and when aggressive, Bolt will fold his ears back against the back of his head - much like real dogs. When affectionate and cuddly (a behavior that is mostly seen when Bolt is together with Penny), Bolt has his ears slightly dropped against his head, expressing submission and kindliness.

Bolt eyes are big and seem to change between brilliant amber and warm brown, again much like his contrasty personality. His pupils and iris resembles a human eye rather than an animal’s. His muzzle is short, wide and square-cut compared to that of the common shepherd, but is all the same very slender and ends in a wide black nose. His mouth looks like a normal canine mouth, even down to the black dog lips, and follows his jaw naturally, particularly when he smiles. Bolt has two heavy eyebrows, and though they are not clearly outlined, they add a lot to his facial expressions.

Much like his extensive, canine body language, Bolt mimics are also very expressive. Bolt’s facial expressions are anthropomorphic. For example, Bolt might smile like a human while wagging his tail like a dog. Bolt’s facial expressions are both exemplary and communicative and were carefully sketched and planned for every animated scene. Bolt’s eyes, mouth, eyebrows and ears are all essential in creating Bolt’s facial expressions and a lot of effort was put into making the underlying “muscles” behind his face move in a believable way. 

Bolt angry

Bolt looks aggressive with his eyebrows furrowed, his lips curled back to expose his teeth and his ears laid back against the back of his head, ready to attack.

In a scene at the RV-park when Mittens teaches Bolt to express the ”dog face”, the animators took the opportunity to show off some of their advanced texture rendering and animation technology, focusing on Bolt’s face as he changes expressions.

Bolt’s facial expressions are very important for understanding the character's emotions, as Bolt is comparably few-worded in the movie. His facial expressions and mimics also changes significantly depending on context. During the first half of the movie, Bolt expresses a spectrum between stress, as well as confusion´, focus, determination. When speaking to Mittens, Bolt seems apathetic, almost arrogant. Later on, the same character seems miserable and sensitive. Aside from general emotions, Bolt has some personal tendencies. When Bolt thinks, he has a way of lowering his head and narrowing his eyebrows. His pupils might move back and forward as in search for something on the ground, or a thought in the back of his head. This behavior can be observed in many scenes, but most notably when he meets the pigeons in New York and when he first meets Rhino at the RV-park.

Reception

After the movie's release on the 21st of November, 2008, many critics wrote reviews focusing on the character Bolt and their opinions about his role in the movie, as well as his personality. On the most part, reviews about the movie, and the character Bolt, were very positive.

Critical Praise

Bolt was met very well by critics, often being cited as a generally lovable, inspiring or simply cute animated dog. When mentioned in reviews, Bolt’s expressiveness and dog-like magnetism are normally the things to be brought up. 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” adding that “his physical gestures and expressions turn him into a memorable, irresistible character”. A critic for the Daily Express UK wrote that “the wonderfully expressive features on Bolt make him feel almost real”.

Many reviews praised the detailed and realistic animation of Bolt. A critic from the famous, British newspaper The Telegraph wrote that “Bolt’s fur is startlingly real, and animal gestures are faithfully reproduced: Bolt savaging his favorite 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, one of these being the critic Jeffrey M. Anderson who praised the actors “earnest and gentle voice performance”. Colin Covert, writer for StarTribute.com, wrote that The dog's expressions are heart-rending as well as hilarious, and Travolta's vocal performance is utterly winning.

Another thing that critics mentioned regarding the character Bolt was the important messages regarding trust and loyalty his journey towards self-realization illustrated. “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. Another critic from Cutprintreviews.com wrote "For the dog owners in the audience, myself included, Bolt serves as a potent reminder of the joys of having such company around. but added However, pooch-less parents should be wary; if the film itself doesn't have you stopping by the pet store on the way home from the cinemas, then the inevitable nagging of the kids in the backseat relentlessly longing for a puppy just might."

Since the movie’s release in 2008, Bolt as been constantly compared, both by critics and in different forums, to characters with similar experiences such as Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story and Truman, played by Jim Carrey in the 1998 film The Truman Show. Both of the characters are deluded by their surroundings and they both develop towards self-realization. However, other than that their premise sounds very much alike, it could be argued that none of these characters has much in common with Bolt. As written by Ryan Crackdell on MovieReviews.com “Although very much akin to Buzz Lightyear in synopsis, it’s played out more like The Truman Show, where realizations come about in layers and there’s a lasting push to become one’s self, not a character to be consumed through media.” Furthermore, while Bolt is a story about trust, loyalty and the many canine virtues that Bolt represents, The Truman Show is more of an allegory for God and solipsism.

Arguably, the best summary for Bolt’s story and message in the movie came from Josh Taylor from CinemaBlend, writing that “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."

Negative Criticism

What little criticism critics Bolt received was mostly concerned with his role in the movie as compared to other characters, such as Rhino and Mittens. Some skeptical critics criticized Bolt for being an unoriginal main character, often comparing the traditional dog character with Pixar’s more original figures (being WALL-E|robots and Toy Story|toys). Movie critic Mark Jenkins wrote that Bolt isn't the most “distinctive of cartoon mutts” but admitted that Bolt does capture the “endearing canine qualities of devotion and determination”. In an interview during early production, Chris Williams was quoted saying that a lot of modern movies about dogs are not true to what a dog is, and that they with Bolt tried to return to what makes a dog special. Other movie critics criticized Bolt’s role in the movie, saying that the makers failed to fully give Bolt enough attention when other, minor characters were introduced. Some critics wrote that simplistic comic-relief characters, such as Rhino, and the funny pigeons, stole many of the movie’s more important scenes and were allowed to take over, despite not adding much to the movie other than gags. Ben Simon from AnimatedViews wrote in his review of the movie that the plot loses itself during the middle half of the movie and that he found Rhino, otherwise seemingly the break-out character, to be sometimes funny but overall indicative of “recent Disney’s loud sidekicks in that they seem to have to shout all their dialog in an attempt to amp up their impact and comedic assets.”

Similar criticism came from a writer for Daily Times: “Once the cuddly dog starts his cross-country journey home and meets up with an untrusting and mouthy alley cat who is hiding a secret about her past, and Rhino, a portly hamster who spends most of his time watching television in a clear plastic ball, the film loses most of its charm.

Cultural Impact

Boltbarks

A white American shepherd sets the Guinness World Record for world's loudest "superbark".

However, a majority of the 175 critics cited at Rotten Tomatoes still praised the character Bolt. His movie also holds an 89 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes. However, Box Office for the movie wasn’t quite as high as expected, which according to some critics might have something to do with Bolt as well, and the way he was depicted when the movie was advertised “Trailers suggested that most of the film would consist of sight gags in which Bolt injured himself while trying to recreate his TV stunts in real life. Animal lovers can be notoriously sensitive to images of animal abuse, even fictional ones; perhaps this turned away customers who might otherwise have flocked to the movie on opening weekend.” Quote from article by Steve Biodrowski entitled “Overlooked Dog Deserves its Day”.

Bolt was also included as the ”recommended pet dog” in FilmCritic.com list of "The best Fantasy Creatures”. There are several examples of the character Bolt’s cultural impact, one of the most notable being 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."

Disney Parks

Bolt is very rarely seen at Epcot's American Adventure

Bolt WDW

Bolt poses for a photo at Walt Disney World.

Trivia

  • Given dates, seen on posters and in magazines that appear in the movie, Bolt was born in January 2003 and was 8 weeks old when adopted by Penny.
  • The number on Bolt's dog tag is the address of Disney's feature animation building.
  • Bolt was adopted from the Silverlake Animal Rescue center. There is a real animal rescue organization, named Silver Lake Animal Rescue League, located in Michigan.
  • Bolt seems to have an habit of talking to himself. He is seen talking to himself in one of the early scenes, trying to calm down. He also called himself "Bolty." Penny is the only other character to use that name on him.
  • Bolt's named was changed to "Volt" in Russia, since the word "bolt" can be used as a vulgar word, meaning a male organ in Russian.
  • During the making of the movie, the animation department enjoyed adding concealed, visual metaphors. When Bolt escapes from the studio, he is wearing two things, other than his naked fur; his dog collar and his iconic lightning bolt tattoo. The collar was representing his canine loyalty and relation to Penny while the lightning bolt was representing his delusional view of the world and perceived superpowers. When Bolt returns to Penny after this great adventure, he is still wearing his collar, while his lightning bolt has been smudged off his fur, symbolizing how he has left his superhero roll behind while still believing in his relation for Penny.
  • Bolt is similar to Buzz Lightyear from the first "Toy Story" film, as both believe to have their TV shows' superpowers, and yet, they do not have them. It is then later that both heroes realize (and admit) it.
  • He is also similar to Shoeshine in the Underdog film. At the start they have not had a proper family but soon develop into house pets.

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