Now: Bolt (2008)
Then: The Truman Show (1998)
In Disney’s animated Bolt, a canine actor has been led to believe that he really has the superpowers he displays in his hit TV show — because “if the dog believes it, the audience believes it.” After becoming convinced his human has been kidnapped, he escapes his trailer, winding up in New York and all sorts of trouble. In Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, a man (Jim Carrey) has lived his whole life in an imaginary universe created by a TV network. As he begins to realize that all is not what it seems, he decides to explore the world for himself and chaos erupts. But which of the two made-for-TV characters is top dog?
Bolt: Bolt embarks on a daring cross-country trek that takes him from New York to Ohio to Las Vegas and finally back home to Hollywood, a route that matches his journey of self-discovery.
The Truman Show: Truman evades thousands of cameras and commandeer his dad’s decrepit sailboat to escape faux-idyllic Seahaven, but he’ll never really come to terms with who he is until he finally sees the real world — which happens after the movie ends.
Advantage: Bolt — His journey is the more surprising and touching one. Along the way, he discovers that not only is he far from a superdog, but he doesn’t know the first thing about being a normal dog, either.
Bolt: The Director, the Agent and the Network Executive command an army of cameras, helicopters and yes-men to create the illusion of reality around Bolt — and they don’t flinch at replacing him with another dog when he disappears.
The Truman Show: The beret-wearing, unbearably pretentious creator Chrystof (Ed Harris) is both father figure and vengeful god. He created Truman — and he’s not above trying to drown him with a tsunami when it looks like he may make it out of the studio.
Advantage: The Truman Show. Harris’ Chrystof is so intense, even network execs are intimidated by him.
Bolt: Rhino the hamster is adorable — but as a TV addict, he’s even more delusional than Bolt.
The Truman Show: Truman’s world is full of enablers and spies, none worse than his best friend Marlon, who grabs a six-pack and offers Truman a “brewsky” at the first hint of trouble.
Advantage: The Truman Show
The Heroes’ Weaknesses
Bolt: Bolt becomes convinced that Styrofoam takes away his powers.
The Truman Show: Thanks to a childhood tragedy, Truman is terrified of water, which comes in handy for keeping him stuck on Seahaven.
Advantage: Bolt — Water’s been done to death. Styrofoam’s scarier.
Signs of the Times
Bolt: Bolt’s other sidekick, the cynical Mittens the Cat, finally admits that her humans once abandoned her — giving the movie a surprising resonance at a time when pets are reportedly being dumped due to tough financial times.
The Truman Show: The movie is about the ultimate reality show, prophetically made before the reality-TV craze really hit.
Advantage: The Truman Show
Bolt: It’s sweet, exciting and funny in a way that never feels dumbed-down — but it also has to contend with a bar set very high by Pixar movies like WALL-E, Ratatouille and Toy Story.
The Truman Show: It’s a satire that’s both moving and hilarious. It also gave Jim Carrey his first serious role — though, having seen The Majestic and The Number 23, we’re now convinced that was a mixed blessing.
And the winner is …: It’s a tie! The Truman Show might be a haunting work of art, but Bolt says a lot about self-knowledge — in a way both kids and adults will appreciate.