Bolt is a fictional white American Shepherd Dog and the main protagonist from the 2008 animated feature of the same name. His character development embodies the film’s main messages regarding trust and loyalty. The character Bolt was designed and developed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard together with the chief character designer Joe Mosier along with his two animators Tony Fucile and Scott Robideau. Much of the inspiration for the character was provided by John Lasseter . The voice cast was done by John Travolta, whose earnest and gentle vocal performance did much to make Bolt into the character he is.
Very little is known about Bolt's past, other than that he was adopted in March, 2003 at the Silverlake Animal Rescue Center. In the movie Bolt looks and acts much like an 8 weeks old puppy. In the movie’s opening puppy scene, the audience is introduced to Bolt and his innocent, playful, curious and mischievous nature. Penny enters the locale and spots Bolt almost immediately. Bolt turns to Penny, smiling and wagging happily before being distracted by his own tail and starting chasing it. Penny adopts the puppy, hugs him and gives him is iconic dog collar. The camera cuts to dark and the next scene takes place 5 years later. The audience is now being introduced to another side of Bolts personality, namely his focused and daring action persona. He is now seen outrunning motorcycles and blowing up helicopters, playing the role of a stereotypical, nerveless super hero. It is soon reveled that Bolt plays the lead role in a popular TV show in which he is the star. In the TV-show, Bolt plays a superdog who has been genetically manipulated to have superpower, like super-strength, the ability to run very fast and his legendary “superbark”. His mission is to protect his owner Penny from this vicious villain Doctor Calico and his evil, cat minions. In each episode, Penny is captured by Doctor Calico, and in each episode, Bolt has to use his superpowers to “rescue” her. Bolt, however, believes that his adventures are all real and that his Penny, the little girl towards whom he directs all of his considerable love and devotion, is in real danger. The directors are nurturing this illusion through the use of extensive stenography and live-effects, hence tricking the apprehensive canine, year after year, into believing that Penny is in serious danger and in need of constant protection. Everything is done in order to achieve a more realistic, genuine performance from the poor dog whose only real interest is to be with his owner, and while the directors seem very determined not to let Bolt get a glimpse of reality, they are not very concerned about the experiment’s effect on Bolt himself. Penny is a child actress and she knows the drill. She returns Bolt’s love the best she can when she is not being pulled away by other workers or her greedy agent. After each recording session, at the end of each day, Bolt and Penny can spend some time alone in a trailer located inside the studio. Aside from the recording, this is seemingly the only time the two get to have together. Penny is forced to leave Bolt every night, alone, locked in the trailer, as the directors are very keen to keep Bolt isolated from reality, but she aspires to one day take him home with her and let him enjoy the life as a real dog.
In one of the early scenes, taking place inside the trailer after a recording session, the audience is being presented to the damage Bolts hectic, career has done to him and his relation to Penny. As the two characters finally have some time on their own, the dog is too worried and triggered to play or eat. Instead, he is persistently guarding the door from the potential evils he is convinced might still be outside. Penny seems worried. She tries to connect with Bolt, get him to play or calm him down, but soon gives up. After a while, her pink cellphone rings, reminding her that it is time to leave Bolt alone. Bolt, obviously knowing from earlier experience what the ringtone means, looks insistently at Penny and tries to block the door with his body, trying to keep her from leaving. Penny just sighs saying, “You know I have to go”. Penny hugs Bolt before leaving, who stands by the door after that she left, whining uneasily.
During the night, two cats from the TV-show visit Bolt's trailer, mocking him, playing on the fact that he thinks it is all real. Bolt does not realize that the cats are making fun of him, showing just how delusional he really is, but he gets frustrated when the cats ignore his threats and attempted intimidation. The cats leave him barking insanely.
When the directors decide to make a “cliff-hanger” in an attempt to boost ratings, Bolt does not get to rescue Penny at the end of the shooting. Instead, he is being captured and dragged to his trailer where they try to look him in. Thinking that Penny needs to be rescued, he effortlessly tricks the guard and escapes the trailer. Spotting some props from the TV-set outside a window, he throws himself against the hard surface, convinced that he will be able to break through. Instead, he knocks himself unconscious and falls backwards into a box stuffed with packing styrofoam. The box is sealed and Bolt is shipped to New York without anyone knowing that he is in the box. Alone, lost and worried in the streets of New York, Bolt tries to find Penny while running down the crowded streets, convinced that she is still in danger. He tries to perform several of the stuns he used to do in his TV-series. At first, he tries to knock a man, wearing a suit, unconscious thinking that his appearance resembles that of Doctor Calico. But he fails. He also tries to jump over a road construction ditch but falls down the hole in a most anticlimactic manner. Upon crawling back up, he spots a truck carrying a portable toilet that reminds him of the container in which Penny was captured. He runs up in front of the truck, ready to smash his head into it, but the driver spots him and breaks, probably saving the dogs life. Bolt doesn't find Penny in the portable toilet but he meets a few dogs down the street, which he refers to as “brothers” suggesting that his career at the TV-series has left him with a view of all dogs as allies. However, he quickly becomes frustrated as the dogs seem more interested in sniffing his butt than answering any of his questions, and he runs away when a well-meaning dog walker tries to put a leash on him. In the next scene, Bolt accidentally gets stuck with his head in a fence. Whilst stuck, three pigeons arrives advising him to turn his head in order too break free. Bolt is too frustrated to listen, growling that he needs to find his person. He tries to bend the bars and rock himself free, but to no avail. He eventually calms down and listens to the pigeons, and actually manages too break free when following their instructions. This event marks a milestone in Bolts character development, as it is the first time he has to listen and take instructions from other characters in the movie. The outcome was positive and serves as a behavior alternating “positive reinforcement”. This is also the first time he solves a problem through the use of intelligent problem solving rather than just his superpowers – a practice that Bolt will develop and use throughout the rest of the movie. Bolts ability to solve problems indicates that he is both intelligent and extraordinarily adoptive, despite his delusional view of the world.
Desperate to find Penny, he is directed by a trio of conspiring pigeons to a sassy alley cat named Mittens who bullies pigeons out of their food.
Since Calico has a thing for cats, Bolt believes Mittens is one of his agents and threatens her to tell him where Penny is. Deciding to play along after seeing Bolt's tags, Mittens directs him to Hollywood, but Bolt brings her along against her will.
Along the way, Bolt notices his "powers" aren't working, but he brushes it off as a side-effect of the Styrofoam from the box he was shipped, much like kryptonite for superman. He also experiences pain and hunger for the first time, and Mittens trains him to use "the dog face" to beg for food when they end up at an RV park. While suckering people out of their food, they meet a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino who is a huge fan of Bolt's show and like Bolt believes it is all real. He convinces Bolt to let him tag along and leads them to a bridge over a railroad after Bolt states they'll "need a fast set of wheels." When Rhino mentions a "magic box", Mittens finally realizes Bolt is a TV star, but is unable to convince Bolt when they're captured by animal control. Bolt breaks free but it turns out Rhino let him out of the truck's cage, and the lightning bolt on his fur smudges, which finally knocks the truth into Bolt, depressing him. But his spirits are lifted after a brief pep talk from Rhino (who has yet to realize the truth himself), and they manage to save Mittens from the pound. The trio continue their journey and along the way, Mittens teaches Bolt what it means to be a real dog and how to act like one, like playing fetch, sticking his heads out a car window, etc. At first, when he was feeling depressed when he thinks Mittens doesn't believe in him as a super dog, she also cheers him up at one point by letting him in on a "little-known cat secret". Cats hate dogs because they wanna be dogs as she explains dogs have the greatest gig in the world. But when they end up in Las Vegas, Mittens refuses to continue on and tries to convince Bolt that Penny is just an actress and doesn't love him, but Bolt refuses to believe that. Mittens then reveals, while ranting, that her owners abandoned her and left "their declawed cat to fend for herself". Bolt sadly says goodbye to Mittens and wishes her the best, and continues on alone. Rhino then convinces Mittens to follow Bolt with another inspiring speech and they are off to LA as well.
Upon arriving at the studio, Bolt is shocked to see Penny hugging a lookalike of himself and leaves with a broken heart, not realizing it was all a rehearsal and that Penny still misses him.
Outside the studio, he runs into Mittens who explains to him she was in there when it happened and saw that Penny missed Bolt when she cried a little while hugging her mother: Penny truly does love Bolt and misses him dearly. Bolt then suddenly hears something and senses something's wrong and that Penny is in danger. He, Mittens, and Rhino run to the studio, which is on fire due to the lookalike panicking and knocking over some torches, and Bolt makes it inside. He locates Penny and they share a heart-warming reunion which is cut short when they have to get out. Bolt leads Penny to an air-vent but she begins to succumb to smoke asphyxiation. Penny tells Bolt to save himself but he refuses to leave her side. Bolt then realizes his bark echoes out the vent and barks in to the vent alerting the firefighters to him and Penny's location before passing out. They're rescued and sent to the hospital, while Penny's mother informs their agent that they quit when he wants to exploit the incident for publicity purposes.
Some time later, Bolt's show jumps the shark with an alien abduction plotline with his lookalike, and a Penny lookalike starring in the show (the show explaining the new Penny's different appearance as a result of facial-reconstruction surgery) while Bolt and Penny have moved to a rural home and neighborhood with Mittens and Rhino, who Penny has adopted, and Bolt finally gets to be a real dog, Penny's dog. But most important of all, Bolt has learned something very important. You don't need superpowers to be a hero, so long as you have courage and believe. Bolt’s ears are big, fluffy and stand vigilantly erect over his head. His alert ears are a trademark of his caricature and they don not only match his intent personality and sharp profile, but also allowed the animators to emphasize his expressiveness. They leave his face uncovered; making way for Bolt’s other expressive, facial features.
Bolt begs for food at the RV-park. Added by Carlminez However, Bolt is obviously able to drop his ears, which he does when creating his powerful dog face. Despite being stiff, Bolt’s ears do change somewhat in accordance to his body language. When sad, Bolt’s ears seem to drop slightly, as he lowers his head and his posture starts to slouch. When eager, alert or listening, Bolt’s ears will stand vertically up, and when aggressive, Bolt will fold his ears back against the back of his head - much like real dogs. When affectionate and cuddly (a behavior that is mostly seen when Bolt is together with Penny), Bolt has his ears slightly dropped against his head, expressing submission and kindliness. Bolt eyes are big and seem to change between brilliant amber and warm brown, again much like his contrasty personality. His pupils and iris resembles a human eye rather than an animal’s. His muzzle is short, wide and square-cut compared to that of the common shepherd, but is all the same very slender and ends in a wide black nose. His mouth looks like a normal canine mouth, even down to the black dog lips, and follows his jaw naturally, particularly when he smiles. Bolt has two heavy eyebrows, and though they are not clearly outlined, they add a lot to his facial expressions. Much like his extensive, canine body language, Bolt mimics are also very expressive. Bolt’s facial expressions are anthropomorphic. For example, Bolt might smile like a human while wagging his tail like a dog. Bolt’s facial expressions are both exemplary and communicative and were carefully sketched and planned for every animated scene. Bolt’s eyes, mouth, eyebrows and ears are all essential in creating Bolt’s facial expressions and a lot of effort was put into making the underlying “muscles” behind his face move in a believable way. In a scene at the RV-park when Mittens teaches Bolt to express the ”dogface”, the animators took the opportunity to show off some of their advanced texture rendering and animation technology, focusing on Bolt’s face as he changes expressions.
Bolt looks aggressive with his eyebrows furrowed, his lips curled back to expose his teeth and his ears laid back against the back of his head, ready to attack. Added by Carlminez Bolt’s facial expressions are very important for understanding the character's emotions, as Bolt is comparably few-worded in the movie. His facial expressions and mimics also changes significantly depending on context. During the first half of the movie, Bolt expresses a spectrum between stress, as well as confusion´, focus, determination. When speaking to Mittens, Bolt seems apathetic, almost arrogant. Later on, the same character seems miserable and sensitive. Aside from general emotions, Bolt has some personal tendencies. When Bolt thinks, he has a way of lowering his head and narrowing his eyebrows. His pupils might move back and forward as in search for something on the ground, or a thought in the back of his head. This behavior can be observed in many scenes, but most notably when he meets the pigeons in New York and when he first meets Rhino at the RV-park.