Flushed Away

2006, Movie, PG, 86 mins


British studio Aardman Animations, whose previous credits include the stop-motion classics Creature Comforts (1989) and THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (2005), tries its hand at CGI animation in this lively if derivative romp. Upper-class rodent Roddy (voice of Hugh Jackman) is happily ensconced in a literal golden cage in his owner’s Kensington mansion when an ill-mannered sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie) pays an unwelcome visit. Roddy conspires to flush his houseguest home via the toilet but winds up taking the one-way trip himself. After a wild ride through the London sewer system, he's unceremoniously dumped in the middle of a teeming "ratropolis." Desperate to find a way back to the surface, Roddy stumbles upon tomboyish Rita (Kate Winslet), the captain of a speedy sewer vessel called the Jammy Dodger. But Rita has problems of her own: She's stolen a valuable gem from amphibious crime boss The Toad (Ian McKellan) and is trying to stay one step ahead of his henchmen, Spike (Andy Serkis) and Whitey (Bill Nighy). A perpetual screwup, Roddy gets them both caught and it's up to Rita to mount a daring escape. In the process, she steals an important item that figures into The Toad’s plan to rid the underground world of rats once and for all. To recover the object, he enlists the help of his French cousin, Le Frog (Jean Reno), who arrives with a crack crew of ninja frogs. As the chase resumes, love appears to be in the air between the Jammy Dodger's rough-edged captain and her well-bred passenger. Despite the switch from stop-motion to CGI, the hallmarks of a typical Aardman production are intact, right down to the characters’ round eyes and prominent teeth. There are a number of entertaining chase sequences (although none rival the extraordinary toy-train chase in the short WALLACE & GROMIT IN A CLOSE SHAVE) and plenty of cheeky British humor. As always, most of the best gags are buried in the background: Look closely and you’ll spot nods to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, MARY POPPINS and even the work of Auguste Rodin and Franz Kafka. Where the film disappoints is in its characters; despite good vocal performances from Jackman et al, Roddy and the gang simply aren’t as endearing as Wallace and Gromit or CHICKEN RUN's Babs the hen. The lack of strong personalities also makes the script's shortcomings all the more apparent: for all its energy, this is just another fish-out-of-water story. In the end, a bunch of sewer slugs who pop up repeatedly as a kind of slimy Greek chorus get the biggest laughs, and you know something is amiss in an animated comedy when you find yourself wishing slugs were the stars. leave a comment --Ethan Alter

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