Hollywood is going to the dogs this year, judging Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Bolt and Marley and Me. Aimed squarely at the younger members of the family audience, Thor Freudenthal's Hotel for Dogs is a throwback to the not-so-fast and fur-ious capers Disney used to churn out in the 1960s and 1970s (remember That Darn Cat!?). Bruce and Andi (Jake Austin and Emma Roberts, Julia's niece) are, orphaned siblings housed with the uncaring foster parents Carl and Lois Scudder (Kevin Dillon and Lisa Kudrow, mugging rather desperately). The kids are forced to unusual deviousness to keep their Jack Russell, Friday, in kibble without the grown-ups finding out he exists. An abandoned downtown hotel seems like the perfect kennel, especially after Bruce, an amateur inventor, modifies the plumbing and rigs up a doggy exercise room. Soon the children hook up with a like-minded pet store clerk and raid the local pound for more guests. Quite what Don Cheadle is doing in these surroundings is anyone's guess (perhaps he thought it was a sequel to Hotel Rwanda?). Freudenthal seems more comfortable with the four-legged cast than the bipeds - or maybe they're just better actors. But if you're in the market for this kind of thing, and you're no more than 10 years old, Hotel for Dogs should meet your needs. In this case reservations are recommended, but hardly necessary.
* Tom Charity