Like every other kids' movie coming off the studio line these days, the charming and well-crafted animated feature Bolt, about a celebrity pooch (voice of John Travolta) from a TV action series who must learn how to be a regular dog, carries two tales for the price of one. One is a sweetly naturalistic road movie for little kids in which the displaced TV canine rides the rails of America's heartland, learning how to be Everydog under the tutelage of the world-weary cat Mittens (Curb Your Enthusiasm's Susie Essman) and with over-enthusiastic help from a fan-boy hamster (Mark Walton). The other is a deft, if hardly original, skewering of Hollywood duplicity featuring a ratings-obsessed network harridan, an agent who's drawn like an albino Michael Tolkin and will do anything to keep Bolt's owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) happy so he can pocket his percentage, and some well-upholstered pigeons obsessively pushing story ideas. As I laughed my head off, I wondered what it means that children's movies have become the playground for Hollywood's self-loathing. Yet the self-mockery in Bolt is gentle and affectionate, and there's something touching about the yearning for ordinary life and decency that, to judge by its ubiquity in films for the nominally innocent, plagues those who live and work in the realms of the unreal.
Travolta's dog (left) discovers the flyover states.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Nov. 21. Rated PG. 96 minutes.