When Aardman Animations, the makers of Wallace & Gromit, hopped aboard Dreamworks' blockbuster assembly line, some fans feared the worst. Aardman is known for its simple claymation, and many guessed it would only be a matter of time before Dreamworks pressured the animators into incorporating flashy CGI.
Fear not; Flushed Away maintains the look and tone of Aardman's clay style, expanding the limits of what they can create. The film is so jam-packed with visual jokes, sly satire and wacky digressions it sometimes feels like an amped-up episode of The Simpsons.
Roddy (Hugh Jackman) is a pampered pet mouse in an upscale London home. When his owners go on holiday, a loutish sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie) flushes Roddy down the toilet and into London's vast underground sewers. There, he discovers a rat metropolis, where he falls in with adventuring mouse Rita (Kate Winslet), and runs afoul of the dastardly Toad (Ian McKellen) and his rat goons (Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis). Desperate to get home, Roddy must thwart Toad's nefarious plan to flood rat city.
Though the story is standard adventure fare, the snappy action sequences and sharp dialogue set it apart. There's so much happening in the film it's hard to take it all in: a cockroach that reads Kafka, crooning slugs and French assassin frogs who indulge in five-hour lunches and mime. This is where Aardman puts to shame most of Dreamworks' other animated endeavors. Instead of relying on whiz-bang technology to compensate for a lack of creativity, Aardman's crew uses computer animation as a tool to unleash its creativity.
The vocal work is equally fabulous. Winslet is convincingly plucky, Nighy and Serkis are goony, and McKellen reaches new heights of cartoon villainy with his outrageously evil laugh. The real surprise, however, is just how engaging Jackman makes his lead. As with most heroes, Roddy's a fairly conventional fella, but Jackman adds raffish charm.
The film also gets high marks for slipping in a heartfelt message of love and family without the heavy-handed moralizing of standard kiddie fare (hello, Disney).
Though it lacks the subtlety of Wallace & Gromit and stuffs a few too many pop songs onto its soundtrack, Flushed Away's verbal and visual delights offer both kids and adults a cracking good time.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.