Yes is the answer.
Yes is the answer to the question, "Can Disney make Pixar-quality movies without the actual Pixar team?
Bolt is proof. I know there are people out there who will disagree with me. I know there are things about this film that are not Pixar-quality. But I honestly believe this was just as good as any film that could have come out of their animation studios. The story was strong enough, the voice acting was strong enough, and the animation was certainly strong enough. The directors, Chris Williams (The Emperor's New Groove), and Byron Howard have brought this movie to life, and it is pounding with greatness.
Bolt is the story of a major Hollywood dog named Bolt (John Travolta) who is the star of TV's most popular show. Every week he and his "person", Penny (Miley Cyrus) have to team up to stop the sinister Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) from his evil schemes. He has heat vision, super speed, and a "super bark'.
But Bolt has no idea it is a TV show. And the crew takes special precautions to make sure Bolt never finds out, just in case he would lose his "motivation'. Real method acting. They only shoot each episode once, they fake his super powers on screen, and then they put him back in his trailer until the next episode. Though Penny seems to enjoy the show, she is upset that Bolt does not enjoy normal dog things. Instead of playing fetch, he stares at the door of the trailer, making sure no one can harm Penny.
Well things go awry one day when Bolt escapes his trailer, hoping to save Penny from certain doom, and ends up in a crate being shipped away to New York City (Sound familiar? Thanks, John Lassetter). Having no idea where he is, he stumbles through New York, believing the packing peanuts have weakened him, until he finds Mittens (Susie Essman), the local, tough-talking alley cat. Bolt believes since Mittens is a cat, and cats are synonymous with Dr. Calico on the show, he knows where Penny has been 'taken'. Eventually, he embarks on a long road trip back to Hollywood with Mittens, and a hilarious little hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton).
Within 30 seconds, I was hopelessly lost in this movie. That doesn't happen to me very often. It's rare when there is a film where I enjoy almost every single minute. The animation is absolutely beautiful. It reminded me of Edward Hopper's work, which makes sense, because I later found out most of the artwork was, in fact, inspired by it. Bolt's animation and character design is completely flawless. Everything about him is really expressive; the way his eyebrows move, the way his eyes dart around, and the way his tail moves around. You really get into his head, which is hard to do in animated movies; doubly so for animals.
The voice acting is great. I really liked John Travolta's voice for Bolt, which is something I did not expect. Miley Cyrus and Susie Essman are also good, but the real shining talent here is Mark Walton. He is relatively new to voice acting, since he used to work in the art department on other Disney films, but he stands out. Rhino would be nearly as fun without him behind the mic.
Another notable name in this movie is John Powell. He composed the music, and it is fantastic. It really pumps the movie to a new level, and gets you invested in it. The great music paired with the great animation creates an effect that you only get every once in a while; a totally engrossing film. The movie is loaded with heart, and there were a couple scenes, where I felt on the verge of tears.
The only real downfall of this film is it's predictability. You know exactly what is going to happen for most of it, but in the end, it's ok. It tugs at your heartstrings so much, and it's so well done, that you can forgive it. I know I did.
Make sure you catch Bolt in theaters. It's playing now.