Flushed Away Review
Aardman Animation goes Hollywood in more ways than one with Flushed Away. Not only is it the Bristol-based company's first foray into computer animation, in co-operation with Dreamworks, it's by far their most consciously commercial effort. A fast-moving blend of action scenes, knockabout comedy and grown-up in-jokes, it feels more like a rodent version of Shark Tale than Aardman's earlier work.
This is the story of an upper-class mouse called Roddy (Hugh Jackman) who lives a pampered but lonely existence in a gilded cage in Kensington. His life is turned upside down when he's paid a visit by Sid (Shane Ritchie), an oik of a sewer rat who decides he prefers living in a posh townhouse to a drainpipe. When Roddy tries to flush his unwanted guest down the toilet, Sid turns the tables on him and it's Roddy who ends up hurtling down into the sewer.
Landing in a vermin metropolis beneath the streets of London, Roddy sets about trying to find a way back home. He's told his best bet is the skipper of a ramshackle sewer boat called the Jammy Dodger. The skipper turns out to be Rita (Kate Winslet), a spunky young mouse who's on the run from the local gangsters (Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis). With hit-rats on their tail and Rita not taking much of a shine to him, Roddy's journey home is going to be a bumpy one!
There are an awful lot of action in Flushed Away, too much really. In places, it's as frenetic as Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Spectacular boat chases take priority over story, character development and good, old-fashioned family fun. It's only in the second half of the film that you begin to feel any involvement with what's happening onscreen. Till then, it's consistently amusing and (naturally) great to look at but we've come to expect so much more from Aardman.
Few of the big-name stars bring much to the party. Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet are adequate heroes and nothing more. Ian McKellen and Jean Reno make surprisingly mediocre villains, McKellen way overdoing his customary hamming. The only memorable performers are Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy, both wickedly funny as a pair of useless hench-rats. And, dare I say it, Shane Ritchie is also a good laugh as the obnoxious Sid.
Perhaps I'm being too hard on Flushed Away. It's certainly one of the better animated blockbusters this year. Of course, their quality has declined alarmingly since Hollywood discovered computer animation is the closest thing to a sure bet and started flooding the market with these films, along with their accompanying toys, video games and happy meals.
If this is far better than The Ant Bully, it's still a disappointment coming from Aardman, whose previous features, Chicken Run and The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, were near-perfect examples of animation as family entertainment. Maybe the longer production schedule associated with the company's trademark "claymation" encouraged better quality control or maybe Aardman's just trying to give its Dreamworks partners what it thinks they want, ie: half-arsed multiplex product like Madagascar.
Mercifully, enough of the old Aardman charm remains to save the film from complete blandness. Flushed Away doesn't compromise its Englishness too much, there are some good, politically incorrect jokes aimed at the French and the Americans and this is surely the first film to be stolen lock, stock and barrel by a chorus of singing slugs.