There's a scene in "Bolt," Disney Studio's new animated comedy, where Penny, the little girl who has lost her beloved doggie, has him returned to her. She's overjoyed - until she realizes it's not her dog. But he has a wagging tail and a happy smile and she's advised to make the best of it and move on.
Anyone who has seen Clint Eastwood's gripping "Changeling" may experience some deja vu watching the scene. In "Changeling," Angelina Jolie plays a distraught Los Angeles mother in the 1920s whose young son disappears, and then is "returned" by the LAPD six months later. Despite her protest that he's not her son, she's given similar advice.
"Changeling" is a heartbreaking melodrama based on a true story. "Bolt" is a light-hearted, 3D, PG-rated, computer-animated film targeted at family audiences. The similar lost and "found" themes are pure coincidence.
But as with "Changeling," "Bolt" succeeds because of the rich emotions it kindles. As opposed to a lot of animation these days, it doesn't just settle for cute, or get lost in its technology. (Although it does mark the debut of Maui Mall Megaplex's new 3D projector and the latest version of those weird glasses that make watching people in the theater as funny as watching the movie itself.)
"Bolt" is aided by having reliable John Travolta providing the voice of the lovable, gullible title character. Bolt is the star of a TV series in which he relies on his canine superpowers to save the day each week for his co-star, Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus).
The only problem is, Bolt doesn't realize it's just pretend. Like a four-legged version of Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show," whose life is a gigantic reality show watched by millions on the tube each week, Bolt is the only one not in on the joke.
After he gets inadvertently shipped to New York, he has to find his way back to Los Angeles. Along the way, he has to learn what it means to be a dog, mentored by a scruffy alley cat named Mittens (nicely voiced by Susie Essman), with some help from a hamster in a plastic bubble (Mark Walton).
"Bolt" is definitely mixed-breed. Its protagonist shares the plight of computer-generated heroes before him like Buzz Lightyear or the Incredibles. It's tough trying to comprehend the meaning of life when you're not exactly alive yourself.
Then there are the Hollywood in-jokes, to provide a wink and a smile for parents in the audience. Among these are pigeons as wannabe scriptwriters. "Inside the Actor's Studio's" James Lipton is far too convincing as a condescending TV director. Greg Germann plays an agent without a conscience. (Hmm, isn't that redundant?)
But underneath the hipness is an old-fashioned longing for old-fashioned tears as well as guffaws as Bolt and company travel across an illustrated map of the U.S. back to the big Hollywood sign on the hill.
"Bolt" may not be the best in show when it comes to computer animation, but like a mutt in a shelter, it still has you from hello, or at least the first wag of its computerized tail.
If the emotions of "Bolt" are unexpected, they're nothing compared to new box-office phenomenon, "Twilight." Selling $70 million worth of tickets, primarily to teenage girls and their mothers, it's this week's variation on the new-girl-in-high-school-finds-first-love routine. Too bad he's a vampire.
Still, appealing young stars Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattison as Edward Cullen smolder, twitch and agonize convincingly with all those feelings they've never felt before.
Those feelings are what register with the innocents in the audience, and surprisingly with at least one jaded film reviewer. With a student body of likable rather than bratty co-stars and the damp, foggy, incredibly beautiful woods of upstate Washington adding to the mood, the film makes Edward and his very pale "family" not only sympathetic, but as fascinating and heroic as a bunch of bloodsuckers can be.
Pandering to teeny viewers' innocent illusions regarding true love, director Catherine Hardwicke has the audience hanging on every breathless line. Those lines may be vapid, but they still work, thanks to the stars' romantic chemistry and their moody, PG-13-rated, pre-sexual eroticism. There's even occasional humor when the sweet agony gets unbearable.
Being different species makes first love that much harder. Robert and Bella are not unlike the most star-crossed lovers in history, Romeo and Juliet, whom they resemble more and more with each new frame.
"Twilight's" pair fare somewhat better than Shakespeare's duo. In Romeo and Juliet's day, nobody was thinking about sequels.
* Happy Thanksgiving! Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org