The dog-ness of dogs.

Disney’s Bolt is a lot better than it looked, but it’s still not that great. The third act, in particular, is shit — it’s like the screenwriters ran out of ideas, so they went down to the cliche factory, grabbed a handful of tropes and slammed them all together into a simulacrum of a climax. Still, there is one thing about it that I found exciting and unique — it’s a cartoon that nonetheless takes great pains to act as though its characters existed in the real world. By that, I mean to point out that it’s not so much a talking animal feature as it is a film featuring animals that happen to talk (notably, only to each other). The character of Bolt is interesting not because he thinks he’s a superhero dog but because he is recognizably a dog; strip away the entertainment-insider trappings and what you have is a basic, charming tale about why your dog whines when you leave, gets excited when you come home and growls when he thinks there’s a threat to your well-being. He doesn’t need superpowers to be a good and loyal companion, and it’s kind of a shame that the film realizes this in the most trite way it can.

If my point isn’t quite getting across, here’s the bluntest illustration: Both this and the “Goodfeathers” cartoons from Animaniacs! feature pigeons who talk with wise-guy accents as though they were low-level Mafia hoods. In the latter, that’s the joke: They’re gangsters in the bodies of pigeons. In Bolt, the accents are incidental and exist only because the pigeons live in New York City. Otherwise, the birds twitch, move and act like birds. (Especially the twitch part. This may be why the pigeons are my favorite part of the film.)