Movie review: 'Flushed Away'
Flushed Away is the latest animation from those marvelous folks who made the various "Wallace & Gromit" movies. It's about rats, the World Cup, the Queen and toilets, four obsessions in its country of origin - Great Britain.
It's also funny. Quite. At times.
A simple story, acted with as much ham as Ian McKellen, Kate Winslet, Billy Nighy and Andy Serkis can manage, "Flushed Away" takes us down the "loo" and into the sewery underworld of London, which is where the real inventiveness kicks in. The clay animators at Aardman have a gift for turning the commonplace into the fanciful, as rats tool about on hand mixers (as Jet Skis), in washtubs, propelled by mousetraps and inflated surgical gloves and who-knows-what in a breathless chase that owes a bit to "The Rescuers" and "The Great Mouse Detective."
Hugh Jackman stars as the voice of Roddy, a Kensington upper-class pet rat who has the run of his lonely, gilded prison whenever the humans (feebly computer-animated) are away. Then Spike (Shane Richie) pops up from the plumbing, ready to party and watch Jolly Olde play in the World Cup in these swank new digs. Roddy is flushed down the drain to Spike's world.
That's where he discovers a world of sewer rats, slugs and frogs, of rodent mobsters (Serkis and Nighy) working for The Toad (a frog, actually, voiced by McKellen). And who are the mobsters chasing? Lara Croft-rat, aka Rita (Kate Winslet), an adventurous operator who swipes jewels and other precious objects from the Queen-obsessed Toad.
Roddy is sucked into this altercation and must learn that in life it's not every-rat-for-himself, even for a loner like him. French frog ninjas (led by a hilariously spirited Jean Reno), serenading slugs and all manner of sewer life aid or impede Rita and Roddy in their quest.
Aardman always scores points for the sheer giddiness of the animation, the big round mouths of chickens, rabbits, dogs and frogs as they blurt out utterly Britishisms such as "You plonker!" These are films to be savored, thoroughly British in their sense of tinkering and twittering and wit.
But "Flushed Away" starts meekly (a tribute to "Risky Business"), and only builds steam as the chases progress and the wacky gadgets and rat re-uses of popsicle sticks, pencils, tennis balls and the like pile up in a sight-gag overload.
Stories of fights between Aardman and Dreamworks have gotten out, and this is supposedly the last collaboration between the animators who made "Chicken Run" and "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit" and the studio that made billions off "Shrek." American sitcom writers are add-on credits for the script. And there are other telltale signs of DreamWorkings.
Truth be told, DreamWorks' touches, such as computer-generated animation, a "joked up" script (potty gags) and lots and lots of pop music (some of it sung by Jackman, some by the singing slugs) are what give "Flushed" its breakneck tempo. Aardman's old fashioned, hand-crafted movies, with their elaborate sight gags and pratfalls, are probably more for adults than kids.
But here's hoping that "Flushed Away" won't be the last gurgle from Aardman in feature-film form. Aardman shows us that animated humor, even in the toilet, can still be good clean fun.
4 stars (out of 5)
Cast: The voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy.
Directors: David Bowers and Sam Fell.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Industry rating: PG for crude humor and language.