Bolt - and the other characters who transformed cinema

He's only a dog with a big heart, but experts say he and his friends have the power to resurrect a dead art form - the 3D movie

Yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before. Cinema is changing, movies will be in 3D, blah, blah, blah. Anyone who remembers feeling sick while peering at Jaws 3D through flimsy glasses will be sceptical about claims that Disney's new dog movie Bolt is at the vanguard of a film revolution as profound as when the first talkies were heard. But the industry insists that it's true.

"This is absolutely not a flash in the pan," says Tim Richards, chief executive of Vue Cinemas, which is about to put up 200 new 3D screens across the country. There will be at least a dozen other other 3D films released in the coming year, including Shrek Goes Forth and the first movie James Cameron has made since Titanic.

Cameron's Avatar is a science fiction story due for release in December. But for now we have Bolt, a cute dog in the true Disney style, but animated by the people from Pixar who have already had a major impact on the cinema with Toy Story and Wall-E. The story of the hound who thinks he's got superpowers went out in 3D on Friday, and gets a "flat" release this week.

Tim Richards urges people not to be put off by the reputation of the technology which had a brief vogue in the Fifties. "It is a completely different product from when two projectors had to be in sync on screen and if they were even slightly out, they would give people nausea or headaches. The new version is a single projector, and a clean, immersive experience."

Mark Batey of the Film Distributors' Association says even the eyewear is better now: "You put on these cool glasses which are black with polarised lenses. The old red and green cardboard glasses are now ancient history." Only 10 per cent of British screens are digital and therefore convertible to 3D, he says, but that is expected to double this year.

So, can Bolt and his 3D friends really convince us that the future is so bright we ought to wear shades? If so, he'll deserve his place alongside these other characters, each of whom really did change the movies for ever...

2009: Bolt

Bolt

First of a pack of at least 15 films to be released this year in a new kind of 3D. Yes it's back, and this time, the boffins say, it's workable. They promise panoramic vistas, fur that looks strokeable, leaps that could land on your lap, and most important of all, no headaches. The 3D glasses are even cool, apparently. We'll see. Some things never change in Hollywood, though: the hero is still your classic cute dog.

1927: The Jazz Singer

The Jazz Singer

We may be squeamish about his blacked-up face, but Al Jolson's character deserves his place in history. Not the first talkie, despite the legend, but the first movie to use synchronised dialogue along with the action. The impact was so huge that Jolson ended the silent era when he said: "You ain't heard nothin' yet."

1928: Mickey Mouse

Steamboat Willie

The cheeky little mouse made his cinema debut in the first cartoon to have synchronised sound: musicians were recorded playing in time with the images. Walt Disney took a huge financial risk to make short films starring the creature he called Mortimer. His wife suggested a change. The rest, as they say, is theme parks.

1933: Kong

King Kong

"It was beauty killed the beast," said film-maker Carl Denham when the giant gorilla fell from the Empire State Building, having tried to protect Fay Wray. But it was the pioneering stop-motion technique – moving a model by tiny amounts for each frame – that had made him in the first place. Father to an army of creatures, from Godzilla to Wallace & Gromit.

1937: Snow White

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to change the movies they go, in the first full-length animated feature film. Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Temple and Marlene Dietrich were all at the premiere and gave it a standing ovation. Three years in the making, the film used new methods of painting and filming characters that were still being used six decades later. According to Hollywood legend, among the names rejected for inclusion in the seven dwarfs were Flabby, Chesty and Sleazy.

1954: The Creature

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Specs on and snorkels out for the half-man, half-fish modelled on a folk tale from the Amazon. He starred in the most famous of the first wave of films shown in 3D, a craze that made audiences gasp at the realism. But they moaned at the weird pictures and the blinding headaches they got when the complicated and expensive screening process went wrong. 3D was over by 1955, bar the odd experiment... until 'Bolt'.

1975: The Great White Shark

Jaws

It attacked out of nowhere, opening all over the US at once in a frenzy of advertising. The first film to bite off a meaty $100m; its shock tactics wrote the rules for the modern blockbuster.

1977: R2-D2 & C-3PO

Star Wars

Yes, this overrated interplanetary fairytale had some groundbreaking special effects, but that's not why it's here. 'Star Wars' hit the stores with Darth Vader ruthlessness, redefining the movies as a way of selling cosmic amounts of merchandising. Toys, playsuits, bed covers, pencil cases, light sabres... feel the force, Luke. And count the profits. Without it, we would have been spared 'Transformers' and 'High School Musical'.

1995: Buzz & Woody

Toy Story

'Toy Story' was a great film. Fast, funny, thrilling. Human. It also happened to be the first completely animated with computers. The team responsible, Pixar, used cutting-edge technology, but their creations were as warm as real actors. 'Finding Nemo', 'The Incredibles' and 'Wall-E' revolutionised cartoons and movies as a whole. Disney suddenly looked dead in the water... so naturally it bought up Pixar, whose founder, John Lasseter, is now the man behind 'Bolt'.

2007: Beowulf

Beowulf

Ray Winstone as a hunk, Angelina Jolie naked with a tail? Actors merge with technology (and poetry) in a first full-length motion-capture movie.

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