Before the movie, there was a new Pixar short: "Tokyo Mater". Mater tells a tall tale about going to Tokyo. Seems he found a stranded car by the side of the road near Radiator Springs, offered a tow, found out the car was a Japanese import, and obligingly towed him all the way to Japan across the bottom of the ocean. There, he got challenged to a drift race by a heavily modified tuner. So Mater got himself a bunch of modifications and became the shiniest, sleekest, most stylish '40s-era tow truck in all of Tokyo. This cartoon was lots of fun, with big-eyed anime-style cars, drifting on all kinds of outlandish surfaces... oh yes, and ninja cars!
Then Bolt started, and I'm glad I saw it again because I needed two showings to realize how fully AWESOME Rhino the hamster is. First time around, I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn't as annoying as I thought he was going to be from the ads. This time, I realized: Rhino is awesome. He's so awesome, even the scene where he's amusing himself by talking about how awesome he is fails to ruin his awesomeness. Unlike Bolt himself, Rhino never realizes that Bolt's superpowers aren't real... but he's so awesome it doesn't MATTER.
He's relentless. He never quits. And he does things like say "I'll get a ladder" and then ACTUALLY MANAGE to get a ladder, despite being a tiny hamster in a ball. In the scene where Bolt and Rhino are trying to get past the guard in the animal control center, when Rhino says, "I'll snap his neck," I got the sense he might have been able to if Bolt hadn't stopped him! And then he gets no less than three Crowning Moments of Awesome.
And Bolt and Mittens have wonderful character development. First, Bolt roughs up Mittens, and it's played for laughs. Later, Mittens becomes a sympathetic character. And it all works! Bolt and Mittens have really sad backstories, if you think about it. Not only has Bolt spent much of his life so far believing the Big Lie, he has to spend his nights alone in a dark trailer instead of getting to go home with Penny. And Mittens, who first claims she ran away from home ("I'm more of an alley cat at heart"), later admits she was abandoned by her family for no apparent reason, and left to fend for herself, unable to catch food because she'd been declawed, and eventually reduced to shaking down pigeons for food and bluffing them with her "claws".
Some people don't care for the cliché-ness of typical Hollywood happy endings... but these characters get one, and they *earn* it. This movie does tearjerking right.
Oh... and the scene where Mittens teaches Bolt how to beg for food is priceless. :}