A wiggy, waggy-dog story, Bolt is the first Disney animated feature released under the leadership of Pixar's John Lasseter.
While this charmer about a canine James Bond does not pack the emotional punch of WALL-E, it's frisky fun to see the white shepherd get a new leash on life.
The twist: Bolt (voice of John Travolta) thinks he's a super-pooch. But he only plays one on TV.
His sonic-boom bark and supersonic speed are the products of Hollywood special-effects wizards. Like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, the pup is not in on the secret that what he calls life is mindless entertainment for the masses.
During the film's opening set piece, a high-speed fetch sequence on photorealistic streets and bridges of San Francisco, Bolt thinks that he is saving his "person," Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus), from the forces that have kidnapped her father.
Only when the trick-dog escapes his crate, falls into a packing box, and gets overnighted from Television City to New York's Times Square does he learn that he's ordinary - possessed of the extraordinary loyalty of his species. In other words, the action show Bolt thought was his life turns into reality television.
While the showbiz jokes may be too inside-Hollywood for the youngest members of the film's target audience, those 5-year-olds will relate to Bolt's separation anxiety, homesickness, and drive to find Penny.
And almost as much as they love Bolt, they will love his sidekicks, Mittens, an alley-wise cat (Susie Essman), and Rhino, a pudgy hamster fanboy who travels in an exercise ball (Mark Walton). By railcar and flatbed truck, Mittens and Rhino accompany Bolt on his way back home.
The pictorial work here is dazzling. From the fluff of Bolt's fur to the cool solidity of the steel bars on his crate to the crumbly warmth of the asphalt on the streets, the film has a reach-out-and-touch texture. (I saw it in 3-D, which no doubt amped up these details.)
As the nasal, jaded Mittens and the hyperactive Rhino, Essman and Walton supply voice work as nuanced and lively as the images, something that cannot be said for Travolta and Cyrus.
Any actor who provides a voice in an animated movie should be required to study Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in the Toy Story films and Drew Barrymore and George Lopez in Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey