have to admit: The trailer for the new Disney film “Bolt” didn’t really interest me. The whole concept just seemed cheesy and the material felt like it was something that wouldn’t appeal to anyone over the age of 8.

Imagine my surprise when the film proved to be the exact opposite - a sharp and witty, with something for audiences of all ages.

The film tells the story of a canine named Bolt (voiced by John Travolta), who is the star of a fictional smash television show. Unfortunately, Bolt believes the show is real and he is actually a superhero.

When Bolt is accidentally shipped to New York City, he sets off on a cross country journey to return home and rescue his longtime owner Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus).

Travolta proves to be the perfect choice to voice Bolt, bringing an energy level that really fits the canine’s character.

Cyrus is OK, but her character is actually secondary to some nice supporting roles that rival the penguins from “Madagascar.”

Susie Essman brings spunk and charm to her character Mittens, a cat that reluctantly hooks up with Bolt, but Mark Walton nearly steals the film as the overzealous hamster named Rhino.

I also enjoyed the script’s little details. There are some inside Hollywood-type gags that the kids might miss but adults will love. I also found the running gag of regionalized pigeons to be an inspired bit.

The film is also a feast for the eyes - especially in the 3-D format that will be available at both locations.

“Bolt” does have its problems. The film starts to sag in the middle, and I think the final act might be too intense for younger children.

Those are minor gripes, however. For the most part, “Bolt” works, giving families more than one option at the multiplexes this holiday season.

DVD dandy of the week

This week’s dandy is “Tropic Thunder” (B), one of the most offensive, and funniest, films of the year.

Directed by Ben Stiller, the comedy pulls no punches, skewering everything imaginable - and some things you would never consider - providing more laughs than “Meet Dave,” “The Love Guru” and “Hancock” combined.

Stiller, who also co-wrote the script, stars as Tugg Speedman, a fading action film star trying to recapture his fame. His box office power is fading, and his attempt to gain critical praise (a film about a mentally challenged person called “Simple Jack”) failed miserably.

Speedman has hitched his comeback hopes on “Tropic Thunder,” a big-budget war epic that also stars comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a rapper named Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), unknown actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) - an award-winning Australian actor who undergoes a controversial operation to play the platoon’s black leader.

It doesn’t take long for the egos to clash, leaving the rookie director (Steve Coogan) desperate to try anything to get his film shot. He decides to drop the five actors into the middle of the Vietnamese jungle to make a more authentic picture. But that plan quickly goes astray, and before long Speedman and the rest of the cast come face-to-face with a real live drug lord and his henchmen.

“Tropic Thunder” has to be one of the smartest films of the year about Hollywood and the business, with a script that isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. Stiller and Justin Theroux’s screenplay satirizes the big-budget, cookie-cutter studio system with a movie that could easily be part of said system - and gleefully lets the audience in on the joke.

The sharp script is enhanced with a cast that understands the humor in “Tropic Thunder.” Stiller is perfect in the lead, while Black, Jackson and Baruchel all have some funny moments.

There also are some great supporting moments from Danny McBride and Nick Nolte, but it’s Downey Jr. and a pair of big name cameos (Matthew McConaughey and a barely recognizable Tom Cruise) that really give “Thunder” its zip.

In any other movie, Cruise would be the story, but he is actually overshadowed by the comic genius of Downey - who disappears into his absurd role with one of the most memorable performances of the year. Downey is so good, I think his character deserves his own film.

If Oscar had a funny bone, Downey would be guaranteed an Academy Award nomination.

I will admit, “Thunder” gets most of its laughs from a dark and very un-P.C. place, so there are bound to be some who will find this more disgusting than funny.

Still, I think “Tropic Thunder” deserves praise for being a film that isn’t too afraid offend and isn’t afraid to laugh at itself. In an era of too many standard comedies void of laughs, “Tropic Thunder” proves to be a breath of fresh air.

“Tropic Thunder” is rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material and is now available on DVD.

— Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton, who’s still waiting for someone to animate him, can be reached by e-mailing mcompton@bgdailynews.com.


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