Starring: voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy, Jean Reno, Shane Richie
Director: David Bowers, Sam Fell
“Flushed Away” looks and sounds like an Aardman movie (“Chicken Run,” “Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”) in every way, but it doesn’t exactly feel like one. It hits all the right notes, sports some wonderful performances from the voice talent, and emphasizes clever over easy, but there’s an intangible missing. It’s as if the movie was made as a tribute to Aardman, not by Aardman. And as tributes go, it’s a home run. As an original, however, it’s good, but Aardman is capable of much, much better.
Hugh Jackman is the voice of Roddy, the pampered pet mouse of a posh family in Kensington. His life is turned upside-down when Sid (Shane Richie), a tough sewer rat, lands in Roddy’s sink and instantly takes over while the humans are on vacation. Roddy devises a plan to flush Sid down the toilet, but Sid turns the table on Roddy and sends him careening into the sewer. In the London Down Under, as it were, he meets the streetwise Rita (Kate Winslet), and as a form of repayment for destroying something of great value to her, he says that he’ll give her riches beyond her wildest dreams in return for passage home. But Rita’s also on the run after stealing something from the local mob toad, Toad (Ian McKellen), and Toad has dispatched his French cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno) to retrieve it.
This movie, unlike the previous two Aardman efforts, is CGI rather than plasticine. The look is generally the same, of course, but the jump to CGI enables them to pull off effects shots that would be a pipe dream in the world of stop-motion animation. But with that leap forward in technology comes a step back in wit. There are still a couple of sly moments, like Rita’s grandmother confusing the dapper Roddy for Tom Jones (how much fun do you think Jackman had singing “She’s a Lady”?), but I must address the slugs. They’re a recurring joke, filling in the background with musical exposition, and most of the time they’re funny (their duet with Roddy is money). But the filmmakers’ decision to go back to them time and again suggests that they know nothing about the Rule of Threes. Besides, does any movie from now until the end of time need slugs, or any other creature, singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? I thought not.
God was in the casting, though. McKellen is clearly having fun as Toad, even if it means pushing his maniacal laugh just to the other side of “too far.” Winslet’s as sassy as they come, so she’s a perfect Rita, and just try not to laugh when Reno’s Le Frog first opens his mouth. It’s just a pity that more often than not, what they’re saying isn’t terribly funny. Not dumb, mind you; there’s just no guffaw-hold-your-stomach funny moment like, say, the change purse in “Were-Rabbit.”
“Flushed Away” may not be Aardman’s best work, but it’s still much smarter than most of the junk that passes for kids’ entertainment these days (“Barnyard,” “Everybody’s Hero,” “The Wild”). It will certainly be better for your kids’ development than “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.” I haven’t seen “Clause” yet, mind you. Just a hunch.
Finally, a studio that knows how to put together a proper DVD! The single-disc release of “Flushed Away” is positively loaded with special features, including a commentary with directors David Bowers and Sam Fell, four production featurettes (on topics such as music, casting and the switch to CG), as well as additional musical segments. Also included are a few games for the kids, and much, much more.