Flushed Away Review
Roddy St James (Hugh Jackman) lives a charmed life. A pet rat who occupies a gilded cage in a beautiful Kensington apartment, Roddy also has the run of the place when the people who live there leave on their holidays, which is what happens the very morning that Flushed Away opens. Roddy makes the most of the place indeed, beginning with dressing in some very fine clothes, although he does pass on a Wolverine catsuit and a Wallace tank-top-and-trousers set, and taking the girls from the doll's house for a spin in his sports car. Roddy spends the afternoon playing golf and enjoys a game of volleyball, winding down for the night with a drive-in movie in front of the plasma screen and the company of a beautiful doll. As he settles down for the night back in his bed, he feels very happy but in the silence that greets his, "Good night!" he does feel as though something is missing.
But that night, he hears a commotion coming from the kitchen. The Action Man toy is useless so Roddy goes in alone. A enormous burp announces the arrival of Sid (Shane Richie) who decides to make himself just as much at home as Roddy, settling down and demanding that Roddy get him something to eat. Roddy, hopeful more than practical, tries to trick Sid into being flushed down the toilet but ends up there himself, disappearing into the sewers in his crisp black suit to now live as a sewer rat! Whatever else, Roddy must get back home and help arrives in the shape of Rita Malone (Kate Winslet), the owner of the trusty ship Jammy Dodger. The Toad (Ian McKellan) has other ideas, not only for Roddy and Rita for Ratropolis, the bustling city of rats in the drains underneath London!
No matter that Flushed Away was Aardman's highest-profile move away from the stop-motion animation that made their name, that it might well have been the film that ended their deal with Dreamworks nor that it was, by the standards of recent CG animation, something of a failure, this is a hugely enjoyable film and one of the funniest films of last year. It takes all that is normally very, very wrong about Dreamworks animated films - pop songs, celebrity voice artists and quickfire gags - and turns them into something to marvel at. Scenes demand to be rewound time and again to catch small background details whilst it's worth letting the stunning-looking film roll by uninterrupted to treat your eyes to the beauty of it. A beauty that comes complete with rats, toads, slugs and the sewer system of London. And a gag about a turd!
The opening of the film is rather a dull one compared to what comes after. The first ten minutes or so are there, more than anything, to get Roddy St James into the sewers and they can't pass by quickly enough once you hear Shane Richie voicing Sid. Thankfully, Roddy gets flushed down the toilet and into the drains underneath London - these are much, much cleaner than one might have expected given the millions of people living overground - where the plot begins to unfold. Actually, it is worth saying that this story isn't Flushed Away's strongest point, owing something to Toy Story in respect of it being a fairly loose plot on which to hang thoughts about friendship, family and forgiveness. Such a structure gives ample space for some fast-paced action scenes to be then tempered by quieter moments in which the charming little love story between Roddy and Rita can be played out.
Completely unlike Shark Tale, which even with some stiff competition from The Wild and Shrek 2 remains the very lowest point in CG animation, Flushed Away gives space for the audience to keep up with it. A bit of a tiff in the engine room of the Jammy Dodger sees Roddy abandoned on a rubber ducky and strumming a love song to Rita on a guitar. But the arrival of The Toad's henchmen Spike and Whitey (Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy) breaks this up and to the sound of Bohemian Like You by The Dandy Warhols, the Jammy Dodger takes off through the sewers on a chase that's as exciting as it is funny. And all along the way, there are some great in-jokes, a few smart gags and a clear moving on of the plot.
It all ends during half-time at a World Cup game between England and Germany when millions of viewers will get up of their sofas to use the toilets and, or so The Toad hopes, Ratropolis will get washed away in the tide of water, wee and whatever else might appear. Of course, this saving of the city is somewhat frantic - Roddy and Rita not only cope with The Toad but relaxed French hitman The Frog (Jean Reno), some Ninja Frogs, a disappointed surfer and thousands of tadpoles - but even then finds the time for some great gags, notably those in which a frog mime pops up and enthusiastically does his mime thing to complete confusion. The various indignations that he suffers would appear to confirm that Aardman have something of a mime problem in Bristol, realising that the worried look of a mime caught between wordless merry-making and crippling misery is a very fine thing indeed.
One viewing will just get you the basics of the film and the picking up of a few stray background gags but a second, third or fourth viewing in which you keep a finger poised over the pause and rewind buttons will keep you just as happy. Kids will love it as mine have been watching this for the past week and are, with a break of one night for MI High and Power Rangers, showing no signs of flagging. And I've cried with laughter at it throughout, not only for the great gags but at each and every moment that I've spotted something new in the background, a gag that I'd never caught before or at the richness of the writing, which is sentimental enough for a doting thirtysomething yet satisfyingly simple for children. The warmth of the story in Flushed Away will keep it in good company with Chicken Run and the various Wallace & Gromit features, with the hope that Aardman, now released from their contract with Dreamworks, will find a new distributor for their cracking films. On the evidence of this, the Pixar/Disney partnership would make for a better home than the Dreamworks of Shark Tale and Shrek 2 would ever have done.
Dreamworks, for all of my moaning about some of their animated films, have always done a good job with Aardman's films on DVD and Flushed Away is no exception. It does look excellent, being bright, colourful and full of background detail. It is one of the finest looking animated films that I've seen on DVD, almost on a par with some of the Pixar releases and much, much better than The Wild or the Shrek releases. However, it isn't quite there with The Incredibles or Cars but is impressive nonetheless and one can't help but marvel at the sight of Ratropolis. When Rita swings through the city on the Jammy Dodger with Spike, Whitey and a few other hoods close behind her, it's a marvellous sight.
The default audio track is DD5.1 and is very good, allowing for clear moments of silence as well as moments when it springs to life with cheering in Ratropolis, Rita and Roddy in their boat and Tina Turner roaring on the soundtrack. There is also some obvious use of the rear channels but the whole thing just sounds very pleasing, particularly some very apt voice casting and a flavour of the streets of above-ground London in the bustle of Ratropolis. And Bohemian Like You does sound great as the Jammy Dodger barrels through the sewers.
Audio Commentary: Directors David Bowers and Sam Fell have been recorded for this feature-length commentary on Flushed Away, which mixes their obvious technical knowledge of the film with their interest in pointing out what their film owes to Caddyshack, The Italian Job and Quadrophenia. And Larry Grayson's era hosting The Generation Game. Along the way, they talk about the development of the characters, how Roddy lost his two butlers that were originally seen in the trailer and how such material as cameos from Chicken Run's Nick and Fletcher didn't make the final cut. It's an entertaining commentary - "It's hard milking a slug...they've got quite small teats!" and wondering if Hugh Jackman and Kathy Burke might play them in a musical film of their lives - and they're clearly fond of one another's company, leaving it a very good and often interesting listen.
Slug Songs: If you didn't get quite enough of the singing slugs in the actual film then this will offer you that little bit more, including slug versions of I Don't Feel Like Dancing (22s) and Pump It (33s).
The Music Of Flushed Away (8m51s): This starts with footage of an orchestra recording the score at Abbey Road, which suggests that the Dandy Warhols aren't going to get a mention. But halfway through, this steps away from the score and into the film's use of Bohemian Like You, Rolling Down The River and Dancing With Myself. Which is surely the first time that a song about masturbation has ever appeared in an animated feature. Unless Pixar have ever used Sugar Walls or Pictures Of Lily.
Meet The Cast (8m38s): ...because no animated feature on DVD is complete without such a thing! As with every other extra of this kind, this takes us behind the scenes at the recording sessions where Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKelland and...Shane Ritchie do their thing in recording studios. Interviews with these members of the cast (and Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy and Jean Reno) don't really add very much to the enjoyment of the film but would Flushed Away on DVD have been complete without this?
Dreamworks Kids: There's a lot here for children, some of which is simply repackaged in a manner that sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. The Flushed Away Jukebox, for example, is jump-to-a-song/scene selection by another name whilst the Slug Songs pop up once again. However, kids might well like to Build A Slug (13m22s), a feature on how to build a slimy little thing out of Plasticine (or, in the best tradition of Blue Peter, modelling clay), which might well have been more appreciated had it demonstrated instead how to build a Rita or a Roddy. Speaking of whom, we do Learn To Draw Roddy (2m14s) in a short feature whilst the DVD game A Maze Of Pipes will be diverting enough for children just learning to use the arrow keys on their remote control. Which takes us on to...
DVD ROM Material: There is a fair amount of this on the disc, some of which is as simple as Weblinks to online material for kids and for grown-ups but it also includes 21 online games of varying quality and a lot - no really...a lot! - of PDF files to print off. These go from colouring-in sheets, word searches and posters to stationery - and a misspelled stationary! - door hangers and masks. There's just over 200M of material here, which, if you printed it all of, would keep arts-and-crafts-kind-of-kids occupied for hours.
The bonus features on this DVD are wrapped up with a Trailer for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (33s) and a Dreamworks Video Jukebox, which offers songs from Shrek (1m51s), Shrek 2 (1m21s), Shark Tale (2m26s, every second of which is too long), Madagascar (59s) and Over The Hedge (1m54s). Finally, there are Trailers for Bee Movie (1m51s) and Shrek The Third (2m09s).