I love a good dog story. Surprisingly, I didn’t see Bolt in theatres. Then James and I got it on Netflix—and wow, was I silly for not seeing it in theatres. I hope it came out during finals week or something—I can’t think of any other excuse why I wouldn’t see the latest Disney animated feature in theatres. I saw Princess and the Frog in theatres on opening night (along with 90 or so little girls dressed like princesses); the return to hand drawn animation and a new Disney princess drew me in, but I just see Disney animated features in theatres. It’s practically part of my character (character as in a real person and the qualities that make up who they are, not as in a fictional character. I’m a Disney fan, not delusional).
Dogs have such character and expressive faces; it’s part of why I love dog movies, and dogs in real life, so much. When Mittens teaches Bolt how to be a dog…it’s just adorable. And so true! Our three dogs all have very distinct personalities, and they show. In fact, they can be quite predictable. When we moved to Alaska, we put our cable services on hold (tear—I miss the Disney channel sorely); despite the lack of T.V., our dogs often provide us endless entertainment. For example, last night we had to give them rice for dinner because Charlie was having stomach problems. We gave the girls (this is what we call Layla and Nala when we’re lazy and don’t want to use their full names) some rice with their regular dog food so they wouldn’t feel left out (which they would—trust me. They know when someone else gets something they don’t, and they make you suffer with serious puppy dog eyes).
I should preface by explaining that Charlie thinks he’s a lion, Nala thinks she’s a giant dog/cat (it varies: she acts like a big dog, even though she’s the smallest; yet she also acts like a housecat, balancing on furniture arms and sleeping on the back of the couch), and Layla is afraid of everything. Absolutely everything. When we moved to Alaska, we were sure she would be afraid of snow. So there we are, feeding them dinner and watching them eat to make sure no one tries to steal anyone else’s food. Okay, there’s more. Layla loves food more than anything in the world, so watching her eat is kind of like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, only without the embarrassing hits-to-the-groin and fake laugh track (which, let’s be honest: if the videos were that funny, you wouldn’t need a laugh track). James had put her bowl in front of the stove, as we must feed them rice on the linoleum or it will be permanently embedded in the carpet. We’re watching her eat, and the bowl is slowly sliding towards the base of the oven. I turn to James and say, “I bet she jumps when her bowl hits the stove.” Because their bowls are ceramic, we know it will make a clanging noise when the bump occurs.
Five seconds later: Layla jumps six inches in the air when her bowl clangs against the stove. Then she resumes eating. Clang. Jump. Eat. Clang. Jump. Eat. This continues, with a jump or flinch each clang—until her bowl is empty and the floor surrounding it in a 3 foot radius has been licked clean.
We’ve taken to spelling certain words to avoid over-excitement. These include outside, out, walk, leash, dinner, and food. As Jack Prelutsky’s poem suggests, our dogs have learned to S-P-E-L-L. Our dogs aren’t very subtle. James has an alarm set on his iPhone to go off at 7:30 every night. This tells us it’s time to feed the dogs, since routine and regularity provide the structure that dogs need to feel safe and comfortable. After their rice breakfast this morning, the bowls didn’t get picked up. With the rest of the day being busy, they were still on the floor right before dinner. I was standing at the stove, attempting stir-fry (American and Italian cooking I can do, curries I can do, stir-fry still taunts me) when I turn to see Charlie, looking up at me woefully, full puppy eyes and cute collie ears. It’s the full nine yards. Then I look at the clock.
It’s 7:28. Charlie’s paw is in his bowl; he looks meaningfully at his bowl, and then back up at me. Apparently our dogs can tell time in addition to spelling.
Part of what I love about Bolt is his incredibly expressive face. The animators really took advantage of how expressive dog’s faces can be. Charlie regularly winks at me and raises his eyebrows. His eyes, nose, eyebrows and ears communicate to me exactly how he’s feeling. We often joke by saying, “Use your words!” to the dogs, but they don’t usually have to. We know who did what based on who acts guilty and who doesn’t. For instance, when we come home to find the bathroom or laundry room trash pilfered and shredded, we know it was Layla. She hangs back, doesn’t come greet us, looks at the floor and runs off as soon as we approach the room in which she’s spread tissue and dryer sheets. She also doesn’t crow. Crowing is what we call this funny, guttural noise she makes. It’s a cross between howling and grumbling. It’s usually done when she thinks we’re taking too long (to open a door, bring her the food, take off her leash, etc) or when she’s super excited (when we walk in the door, when she wants to play). If she doesn’t make this noise, something is up.
We know for sure it’s Layla for other reasons, too. Charlie, thinking he’s a lion, doesn’t like small spaces. Yes, my dog is claustrophobic. Hilarious, I know. If the kitchen trash has been gotten into, Charlie is to blame. He’ll go into the trash to go after some bit of food he thinks he should have gotten. Nala has no interest in the trash cans at all, so we know by deduction that Layla is the culprit. I should say, so James doesn’t yell at me later for pointing out Layla’s flaws publicly, that other than her bathroom trash shredding, she’s usually perfectly behaved. Charlie barks, Nala doesn’t like other dogs coming near her door, but Layla is usually calm and well-behaved.
In turn, Bolt reminds me of all three of our dogs. When Bolt sticks his head out the window, he reminds me of Layla. She and Charlie both love putting their head out the window, but Layla will shove just her nose out, if that’s all that will fit. She LOVES car rides more than any dog I’ve ever met. Charlie can be very possessive of me, since for a long time it was just the two of us (ten points if you caught the Will Smith song reference). I am his person, in his mind. Like Bolt, he would stay with me, even if we were in danger and he could get out and I couldn’t. In that same scene, Bolt also reminds me of Nala. She’s a cuddle-bug. When Bolt lifts Penny’s arm to lie down beneath it, letting her know he’s still there, that’s a distinct Nala move. Except Nala does it when she wants attention. Or to sleep. Or to cuddle. Or because she’s breathing. Nala is convinced if you’re sitting still, you could be petting her. And if you could be petting her, then you should be petting her.
Growing up, I loved watching Homeward Bound. If there was even a moment of animation in it, I would have found a way to fit it in this project. When Bolt first sees Penny after their separation, the reunion scene from HB comes to mind, and I get teary from thinking about it and seeing Bolt’s heart break.
There’s one action Bolt takes that determines why I love him so much. He’s just had his heart broken, he’s not listening as Mitten’s tries to tell him Penny loves him. He hears Penny, inherently knows she needs his help. And he goes. Like Rhino says, when a friend needs you, you go. Bolt goes to save her, even while thinking she doesn’t love him anymore.
That single action explains why I, and so many other people, love dogs. Unconditional love. She broke his poor cross-country-traveling puppy heart. But still he saved her. And when he thought he couldn’t save her, he was willing to sacrifice himself to stay with her. That’s why dogs are such special creatures, and why it angers me to the deepest level possible when someone huts them. They love unconditionally, they forgive instantly. They love without holding back. As a species, humans could learn a lot from their best friend coutner-parts.