Flushed AwayReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/03/06 16:09:06
(Worth A Look)
The ads for “Flushed Away” make it look like just another one of the numerous animated films to come along this year. Like many of them, it features a group of well-known actors lending their voices to a collection of cartoon animals to tell a story filled with dastardly villains, chase scenes and no small amount of kid-approved toilet humor (starting with the very title). However, it also features a couple of other elements that have been in short supply in those other films–little things like genuine wit and a unique sense of style–and because of those additions, what could easily be mistaken for just another dismal kiddie film turns out to be the rare family film that can be enjoyed equally by viewers of all ages.Our hero is Roddy (Hugh Jackman), a natty little rat who is living the pampered life of a pet in a swank London home. Just as his family goes away on holiday and leaves him with the run of the place, his peace is shattered by the sudden arrival (via pipe) of Sid (Shane Richie), a slobby sewer rat who suggests nothing so much as a rodent version of Nick Frost’s character in “Shaun of the Dead.” After getting a load of his surroundings, Sid decides to make himself at home permanently and Roddy must find a way to get rid of him. He hits upon the brilliant idea of offering Spike the use of the house “Jacuzzi” but alas, Spike is smarter than the average sewer rat and recognizes a toilet when he sees one. As a result, it is Roddy who winds up getting flushed down the toilet and who emerges in Ratropolis, a mouse-sized city that is a miniature version of London made up of the trash sent down from the real thing through the sewers over the years.
Needless to say, this will not do and Roddy enlists the aid of Rita (Kate Winslet), a rough-and-tumble tugboat captain who is perhaps the only person who can get him back home. Before they can leave, however, the two are captured by the minions of the loathsome Toad (Ian McKellan), who plans on putting both of them on ice over something that Rita allegedly stole from him. The two of them escape but in doing so, Rita inadvertently steals the key component in Toad’s dastardly plan to destroy the city once and for all in order to avenge a long-ago slight. To retrieve it, Toad sends out his chief henchmen, Spike (Andy Serkis) and Whitey (Bill Nighy), to stop them but when they prove to be less than successful at the task, he sends in the big gun–his French cousin, known (inevitably) as Le Frog (Jean Reno). At the same time, Roddy needs to decide whether he will return to his life of comfort or stick around to help Rita, defeat Toad and save the entire city from imminent disaster.
“Flushed Away” was produced by Aardman Studios, the British-based outfit best known for the delightful “Chicken Run” and the much-loved adventures of Wallace & Gromit, and it contains a lot of the elements that made those films so endearing. While Aardman has chosen to go the CGI route here instead of utilizing their traditional stop-motion approach (because water, a key component of the film, is notoriously difficult to replicate in that particular format), the film still maintains the kind of loose, hand-made feel of their other efforts–the characters have the same distinctive look, their surroundings are bright, colorful and insanely detailed and if I am not mistaken, you can even see a CGI thumbprint or two if you look closely. The humor is also along the lines established by their previous films–an uproarious blend of wry character humor, dry British wit, knockabout slapstick, clever pop-culture references and throwaway gags hidden in the margins like a big-screen version of Mad Magazine–and the mix should leave both younger and older audience members laughing hysterically throughout. (I find it strange that people are trying to position “Borat” as the funniest movie ever made when, compared to “Flushed Away,” it isn’t even the most consistently funny film to come out this weekend.)
Another key contribution to the success of the film is the canniness with which the voices have been cast. The people at Aardman, much like their American counterparts at Pixar, correctly realize that it is more important to cast the right actor for the part instead of the most popular one and while “Flushed Away” may seem a little more star-studded (especially for British audiences), the picks are once again spot-on. Already in the midst of a career upswing that has seen him shed the one-note grumblings of Wolverine for the more complex characters found in “The Prestige” and the upcoming “The Fountain,” his work here as Roddy is a delight on par with those performance–he is suitably snooty early on, charming and easy-going as things proceed and the guy demonstrates that he knows his way around a Tom Jones song when such a thing is necessary. Kate Winslet is equally funny and delightful as Rita–name another actress working today who could make a sewer rat this spunky and sexy? As the cheerfully diabolical Toad, Ian McKellan has a grand old time chewing all the available scenery as Toad and Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy have a nice back-and-forth as his Toadies. And while the notion of bringing a snooty French frog into the proceedings may sound kind of obvious, especially one with the voice of go-to Frenchman Jean Reno, it works well here because of the obvious relish that Reno brings to the role–I defy you to listen to him say lines like “I find everyone’s pain but my own–I’m French” and not break out into a smile.In the wake of “Chicken Run” and the Wallace & Gromit films, “Flushed Away” may seem a little slight by comparison but that says less about the relative worth of the film and more about the high standards of the Aardman output as a whole. Unfortunately, because of the sheer number of feature-length animated films that have emerged this year–at least one per month and sometimes more–and the inescapable fact that the majority of them have not been very good (although two of the best, “Monster House” and “Ant Bully,” turned out to be financial disappointments while junk like “Open Season” and “Barnyard” raked in the bucks), I would not be surprised if moviegoers shrugged off “Flushed Away” out of hand on the assumption that they have been there and done that. That would be a shame because unlike most of those films, this is a fast and funny family entertainment that doesn’t condescend to its audience, young or old, in any way.
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