When Kensington's upper crust pet Roddy St. James (Hugh Jackman, "The Prestige") is outwitted by house crashing sewer rat Sid (Shane Richie, "Eastenders"), he is rinsed down the plumbing to an underground city where he meets plucky, street wise Rita (Kate Winslet, "Little Children") piloting her boat away from the villainous thugs who work for the Toad (Ian McKellen, "The Da Vinci Code," "X-Men: The Last Stand"). Rita thinks the Toad is after the giant ruby which is missing from his collection of British royalty kitsch. He is - but his grander plan is revenge for a childhood slight that will see all the rats in the city share his youthful plight of being "Flushed Away."
In a year overloaded with animations, only one of which showed any real creativity ("Monster House"), even the esteemed Aardman Animations fails to live up to expectations. Granted, codirectors David Bowers and Sam Fell, both of who share story credit with two of the film's five credited screenwriters, are debuting directors, but Aardman's Nick Park scored two Oscar nominations and one win for his first two shorts back in 1989 ("A Grand Day Out," Wallace and Gromit's introduction, and "Creature Comforts"). But while "Flushed Away" leans on films like "Toy Story," "Stuart Little" and "A Bug's Life," none of them Aardman predecessors, it does have much to recommend it including some British wit and great vocal performances.
Roddy's introduced reveling in his rarified life after his owner dumps a pile of food in his cage before departing for vacation (and the film starts shoddily, as this detail is missing in the very next cut). As in "Toy Story 2," Roddy drives about in a toy car stuffed with dolls and takes a 'date' to a drive-in film premiere, just like Stuart Little did in his sequel. Roddy's delight is deflated when Sid is ejected from the bathroom plumbing. Sid's a slob and Roddy's a snob, but Sid's smarter than Roddy gives him credit for and Roddy's efforts to guide Sid into the 'Jacuzzi' land him in cold - make that bowl - water.
Roddy's lack of street smarts don't endear him to Rita, either. In a classic romantic comedy ploy, Roddy does everything to drive his clearly intended love interest away, only to save the day in the final big clinch. Along the way, Roddy meets Rita's extremely large family where he's mistaken for Tom Jones and clashes with villains who misunderstand his initial protests and brand him 'Millicent Bystander.'
And that's the kind of humor that keeps "Flushed" from sinking. There is also a bang up chase sequence that features egg beaters as jet skis and a British Airways duty free bag doubling as a parachute, but the whole thing is artlessly set to the Dandy Warhols' overused 'Bohemian Like Me' (with a weird segue to Christopher Cross' 'Sailin'). There's also the cunning use of a Nutcracker, called 'The Persuader' and used as a threatening ventriloquist's dummy by Spike (Andy Serkis, "King Kong," "The Prestige") And if his partner in crime, Whitey ((Bill Nighy, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," a presence again with only his voice), looks like Wallace, it was the intention of the filmmakers to maintain Nick Park's signature Aardman look, even though they did not employ his painstaking claymation process. "Flushed Away" is all computer generated and while the sewer sequences have some punch, the above ground backgrounds are flat.
Hugh Jackman channels Ralph Fiennes at his most veddy British for Roddy and Ian McKellen is an absolute scream as Toad, giving him the stentorian voice of Orson Welles. Also hilarious is Jean Reno ("The Da Vinci Code") as Le Frog, Toad's cousin appropriately suited up in a black frogman getup. In yet another reference to another film, the squeaky, wheeing mice chorus of "Babe" are recycled here as screaming, wheeing slugs, a rather delightful bunch always at the ready with a groovy tune.
So while "Flushed Away" is studded with little comic nuggets, it is its story that disappoints - like "Over the Hedge," one of this year's better animated efforts, a loner learns a love of community and there is an over reliance on fart and kicked crotch jokes. Keep your eyes peeled for a quick cameo by Gromit, but one must wonder why, in an Aardman film full of rodents there is not a single mention of Wensleydale.
Robin did not see this film.
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