Have you seen the trailer for Disney’s latest animated feature Bolt? Because if you haven’t, stop reading this for a second, go Google “Bolt trailer,” and spend a couple minutes watching it. Now, if at any point in time during the trailer you thought to yourself “that hamster seems really funny” then Bolt is the movie for you. Add in the fact that the movie has a surprisingly-powerful reminder for those of us in student ministry, and Bolt may very well be the best movie to open this past weekend (although I’ll let my counterpart Josh Treece weigh in on the star-crossed vampires).
Bolt is something of a Homeward Bound meets The Truman Show hybrid. Voiced by John Travolta, Bolt is the canine star of a popular TV show – only he has no idea it’s all fake. His entire life has existed in a make-believe land constructed by producers and directors and Bolt believes he really does have superpowers. He also thinks that he and his “person” Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus) really are fighting an arch-nemesis known as “the green-eyed man.” But when Bolt – believing Penny to be in real danger – gets loose, he soon has to come terms with who he really is, and whether he’s okay with that.
From this description alone you can probably guess most of the plot developments in this movie- a third of the way through I knew exactly how it would end. But in movies like this “how does it end?” becomes less important than “how does it get there?” And that’s where Rhino the Hamster comes in.
Rhino -representing every couch potato kid who is incapable of distinguishing between reality and fantasy – is absolutely hilarious. His manic energy, uber-geek fandom, and absolute devotion to Bolt make him THE reason to see this movie, which drags in the beginning without him, and meanders in later scenes when he isn’t around. Fortunately the writers realized the brilliance they had on their hands with Rhino and he gets nearly all the best material (with the possible exception of a bit involving three pigeons that fans of the cartoon Animaniacs will LOVE).
But beyond being entertaining, Bolt has a good message for those of us who work with teens. In the movie Bolt isn’t a movie star by his choosing, he’s a movie star because that’s all he’s ever been allowed to be. The consequences of this are that he misses out on just being a dog. When he realizes he can’t do everything, Bolt goes through a serious identity crisis that nearly cripples him.
As I watched this I couldn’t help but think of the ridiculous amount of pressure being put on students these days. I know several students who are taking multiple A.P. classes, are involved in afterschool activities every day, are encouraged to take courses at local colleges, and who live in a continual state of fear over whether they’ll be good enough to get into the right schools and get the right job.
And while I believe that making the most of God-given abilities is a great thing, I sometimes wonder if we are teaching students to only define themselves by their accomplishments. Are we breeding a generation of workaholics who are incapable of distinguishing self-worth from tasks? And are we as youth workers simply adding to the problem by pointing them to a spiritual to-do list, rather than to the God whose “yoke is easy, and burden is light.”? I didn’t expect Bolt to bring up these questions, but that’s one of the things I love about movies – I never know when one will speak to me.
But don’t get me wrong, Bolt is mostly just a great movie to sit back and enjoy … and if you have a soft spot for quirky animated characters like Rhino, you’ll probably love it.
Josh Pease – NOT Josh Treece – is on the high school team at Saddleback Church, and wishes that one of his hamsters growing up had been half as cool as Rhino. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.