Aardman Animations made one of last year’s finest films in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Constructed with glorious stop-motion animation and a strong sense of dry wit, the film blindsided me with its ingenuity and spirit. Tragically, Aardman’s production warehouse burned to the ground shortly after the release of Wallace and Gromit. How would the studio recover?
Flushed Away is a collaboration of Aardman and DreamWorks Animation, and the result is a mixed bag that pales in comparison to last year’s masterpiece. I can’t say for certain how many kids will care about the fate of a mob of sewer critters in danger of being drowned during halftime of the World Cup final, but my hunch is not many. The plot, however, is only one of the problems hampering this project.
Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is one spoiled rat. He lives in a luxury penthouse, but is so lonely he must imagine that he has friends. That is, until Sid (voiced by Shane Richie), a sewer rat, arrives through the kitchen sink. Disgusted by him, Roddy tries to lure him into the toilet so he can flush him back down, but the tables are turned and Roddy finds himself in the sewers of London. It’s not so bad, since the underground city of Ratropolis is pretty decked out. Roddy and new friend Rita (voiced by Kate Winslet) soon find themselves ensnared in the aforementioned plot to “open the flood gates,” and must save Ratropolis before it is too late.
The plot is innocent enough on the surface, but the little ones simply won’t care about the intricacies. Much like 2004’s Shark Tale, Flushed Away has too many references that kids simply won’t get, including tips of the hat to old school Batman and singer Tom Jones. Worse yet, are five screenwriters really responsible for the lazy and completely unnecessary potshots at the French? This has been done to death. The running gag of the film, a pack of singing slugs, is entertaining at first, but is run into the ground by the third act. The screenplay does strike gold here and there, but this is largely hit-and-miss in the joke department.
The locales and art design are striking, but the effort to mimic stop-motion animation through the use of computers is dicey at best. It works in scenes where characters are extremely exaggerated, but in slower, more delicate scenes, it seems intrusive. There are, however, a few thrilling set pieces, particularly a chase sequences where Roddy and Rita are being chased by villains on board bakery mixers acting as wave runners. It can mimic stop-motion all it wants, but you can’t beat the real deal.
Flushed Away is not an inherently bad film, just another notch in the completely over-saturated market of computer animated films. We know what Aardman is capable of, which makes Flushed Away all the more disappointing.
Length: 86 Minutes
Rating: PG for crude humor and some language.
Theatrical Release: November 3, 2006
Directed by: David Bowers & Sam Fell.
Written by: Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais & Christopher Lloyd & Joe Keenan & William Davies.
Cast: Hugh Jackman (voice), Kate Winslet (voice), Ian McKellen (voice), Jean Reno (voice), Bill Nighy (voice), Andy Serkis (voice)