Fat Film Review: Bolt (2008 Disney Film)

Okay so I’m a *wee* bit behind in watching movies.  Mostly I can explain this one in that the previews made the film Bolt look very much like just another sad little addition to the stereotype Hero Learns Life Lessons trope collection.  However this past weekend I found myself with an occasion to watch the movie and with incredibly low expectations I found that the film delivered above and beyond.  If you haven’t already seen; it I would recommend it.  The plot and characters are cute, often humorous in very interesting ways (think along the lines of the clever bits in things such as “Shrek”), and very pleasantly body shape/size neutral. If you haven’t seen it and don’t like spoilers, don’t read on until you’ve gotten a chance to watch it because spoilers abound below!

The premise of the movie is summed up on the Internet Movie Database: “The canine star of a fictional sci-fi/action show that believes his powers are real embarks on a cross-country trek to save his co-star from a threat he believes is just as real.”

What really struck me while watching it (and continues to turn pleasantly in my mind now and again in the days since) is just how nicely the film creates a set of characters with a bit of dimension and personality and then throws in different body sizes and shapes as just a natural part of things.  Perhaps it is a bit sad to think we’ve gotten to the point where anything that doesn’t blatantly go for the “Fatty stuck in a tight tube/corridor/hole/etc” is a move upwards.  Yet I felt that Bolt managed to surpass even that bare minimum. Here are just a few of the awesome bits of size positive or size-neutral scenes that stole my heart:

  • The dog’s co-star Penny is a small girl with a large and very round mother.  Yet this mother is kind, loving, understands her daughter’s actual love for the dog Bolt and doesn’t hesitate at the end of the movie to kick her daughter’s weasel-y agent out and declare that Penny would be quitting.  Never is this mother called out for being fat as a code for being lazy or unloving or evil or unfit.
  • Rhino is a fat rolly polly TV watching hamster who joins Bolt (and the practically starving alley cat: Mittens) on his quest. For most of the film Rhino rolls around in his hamster ball.  Yet he is not just a Fat Comedy fill-in character.  He is a full-out fan of Bolt and convinced the dog’s powers are real.
  • Rhino is action and intensity packed into a furry frame held in a plastic ball.  And at one point he manages to roll after the truck that captures Bolt and Mittens, saving the day by releasing Bolt. He rolls in his ball for miles after a speeding truck mind you.  As a fat hamster he rolls around for miles and still manages to maintain the hyper-active ninja-esque attitude that allows him to free Bolt.
  • Towards the end of the film the fat Rhino is set to sacrifice himself to jam his ball under a closing door (allowing Bolt to dash into a burning building to save Penny) and Mittens quickly unscrews the ball’s lid and pulls Rhono to safety.  There is no stereotypical “fat character wedged in tight hole” scene to slow the action down.
  • At one point when Mittens is showing Bolt how to beg for food at an RV camp she lays back and points to her rounded tummy and declares in full happy and full-of-food-for-once amazement “Look, my stomach is distended!  Isn’t that great!!?” Perhaps this conflates food with fat a bit but it mostly had the feel of “Isn’t it great to feed your body?  Even overeating once in a while can feel awesome!”
  • There is a set of 3 pigeons who seem to appear in any city the group stop in and they are a variety of sizes; with no bashing of the sizes on any of them (fat or skinny).

Not only did I enjoy just how neutral and positive the film portrayed characters who happened to run the gamut of sizes but I also really loved that the hero’s moment of “learning the truth” did not entail a long, drawn out series of scenes about his own self-pity when discovering he wasn’t truly a super-powered dog.

That isn’t to say that the film was great about everything.  It would have been great if the dog had instead been female, for example, and was saving a boy from danger.  There was also a distinctly pale-skinned feel to most of the characters.  Even size-wise it would have been fantastic to have a female lead who was fat instead of just a few side characters. But for the purposes of viewing with an eye towards the treatment of body sizes and shapes I found it mostly a very refreshing take on telling a story without having to fall back on appearance discrimination in order to tell a joke.

In all it was a great way to spend 96 minutes of my weekend.  I would even do it again; and for someone who has very few treasured movie classics that she is willing to watch more than once; that is truly saying something.

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9 thoughts on “Fat Film Review: Bolt (2008 Disney Film)

  1. My kids enjoyed Bolt quite a bit, although I found the plot rather a tad too slow through the middle. But it wasn’t so bad as to be intolerable, so… yeah. Nice review. 🙂

  2. We bought the movie for my granddaughter & it is a cute little film. I want to see “Up”, as I have heard good things about the treatment of the fat little boy & the old man (& the voice of the old man is an ACTUAL FAT old man, Ed Asner, who has been fat pretty much forever, as far as I know, is 80 this year.)

    • Patsy thanks for bringing up the point about the voice actors actually being fat too. I neglected to mention that the small icons for the actors used in Bolt didn’t seem to indicate anyone actually voicing who wasn’t “visually non-fat” but I didn’t get into all the side characters. I have a reserve of high hopes for Up as well though; go Ed Asner! 😀

  3. I remember being pleased with the mother being both fat and nice-but-not-cloying. It was a welcome change both for mothers and fat people.

    If you want to avoid fat-phobic movies, really stay away from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It was absolutely filled with fat=greed messages, as well as failing the Bechdel test.

  4. I love the movie (it is animated AND stars an adorable dog), but I think Rhino kind of falls into a fat-geeky trope. Otherwise I agree with the post; just not being horrible toward fat people and allowing them to exist on the sidelines is, unfortunately, progress.

    • Meerkat yeah they did give the hamster the geeky vibe but it didn’t come across (at least to me anyways) as being intrinsically linked with his fatness. Though it might have been so I’m glad you point it out.

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