Roddy (Hugh Jackman), a pet rat living in a posh house in Kensington, London, wakes up one morning to find the little girl who cares for him has gone on vacation, leaving him enough food for a month. With the house to himself, he makes a checklist of fun activities and uses the girl’s other toys as companions. Later, that same evening, Roddy awakes to a strange noise and arrives in the kitchen just in time to see Sid (Shane Richie), a fat sewer rat, explode through the kitchen plumbing. When Sid realizes where he is, he quickly makes himself comfortable. Roddy is aghast at the messy intruder and comes up with a way to get rid of him. Offering his guest a Jacuzzi bath, he shows him the toilet. Sid is all for the Jacuzzi, but turns the tables on Roddy who is soon flushed away. In the sewers, the pet rat finds a miniature London populated by sewer rats, frogs and slugs. He soon meets Rita (Kate Winslet), the tough as nails skipper of a little schooner. She is wanted by the Toad (Sir Ian McKellan), the local gangster with a brood of rat henchmen, including Whitey (Bill Nighy), a former laboratory rat who is now an albino and Spike (Andy Serkis, the Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings”), Whitey’s none too bright accomplice. The Toad has a master plan and wants the ruby Rita stole from him. When they retrieve that, Rita quickly grabs the “Master Cable”, the Toad’s method of controlling the flood gate into their world. Rita and Roddy form an uneasy alliance to escape and set things right.
“Flushed Away” is a CGI Animated film from the same people who brought us the “Wallace and Gromit” films and “Shrek”. If you are familiar with Wallace and Gromit, you probably know they are animated using an old fashioned technique; Claymation. The figures are made out of clay and they are moved and changed for every single frame, giving them a rounded look and making them appear three dimensional. You also frequently see thumbprints and imperfections as the characters move and change, but this is part of the charm for this type of animation.
In “Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-rabbit”, the filmmakers developed a new software program allowing them to animate the bunnies floating around in the Bun-Vac 6000, while retaining the same look of Claymation. This software was used to make all of “Flushed Away”. Essentially, the entire film is created with CGI, but the software maintains certain imperfections and shows us an occasional thumbprint. It is an interesting idea and works well. Perhaps too well. I’m sure this new software allows for a faster production schedule, but it also allows the filmmakers to create larger, more complicated landscapes. This robs this type of animation of intimacy. In “Curse of the Were-rabbit”, it was more than a little endearing to see Wallace and Gromit’s little British village come to life. In “Flushed Away”, Roddy enters a miniature London, complete with replicas of the London Bridge, Big Ben, Piccadilly, neon, ads, shops and more. It is just too large and makes the characters seem lost and more traditionally animated. This scene is reminiscent of the same company’s “Shark Tales”; we watch Will Smith’s character swim into an underwater version of Times Square.
Honestly, when I saw the trailers for “Flushed” I thought Roddy was voiced by Ralph Fiennes. After his appearance in “Curse of the Were-Rabbit”, it fit. So I was shocked to learn the voice was Hugh Jackman. He does a good job of playing a rich, upper-class rat, used to a life of privilege in the Royal Borough of Kensington. Kate Winslet does a good job as Rita, the skipper of her own boat, with a large family to look after, providing for her disabled dad (David Suchet) and mum (Kathy Burke) and their ever increasing brood. But their performances are just a little too ordinary. They don’t add another dimension to these characters.
The real voice talent lies in the supporting cast of characters. Sir Ian McKellan seems to have a great time playing a larger than life Toad bent of controlling his little universe. He has some funny moments throughout the film; for instance when he shows off his prized collection of ceramic representations of the Royal Family, he smiles broadly like a child showing his report card, eager for a nod of approval. He is all bombast and ego as he tries to continue with his evil plan, making him a funny take off of many of the James Bond villains.
Jean Reno is also amusing as Le Frog, the leader of a band of French frogs who wear leather jackets and do the bidding of their cousin, the Toad. At one point, he yells for his followers to respond and they shout “We surrender.” Later, he is perturbed to have his coffee interrupted and throws a coin on his Parisian café table before hopping off.
Bill Nighy is also very good as Whitey, the brain damaged henchman of the Toad. He states “I used to be a laboratory rat. Dealt with a lot of shampoo and now I’m white.” Throughout, he adds a certain goofy charm to the role.
The film contains a couple of ongoing funny jokes. When Roddy first arrives in the sewers, he encounters a large group of slugs, who are as terrified of the rat as the rat is of them. They scream a high pitched squeal and attempt to run away, but their progress is slow. Throughout the film, they return and provide a sort of Greek chorus, singing songs from the 50s and 60s, fitting for that particular moment in the film.
Perhaps the funniest ongoing joke is the Mime Frog. The band of French motorcycle gang frogs have a mime who accompanies them everywhere. When they first appear, they stop for a moment, so he can do a little routine. Later, when they are confronting Rita and Roddy, Le Frog brings out a cell phone with a camera and the Mime places it in front of his face. While the Toad speaks to them from afar, the Mime acts out the Toad’s gestures, pace, inflections and more. A couple of times the Toad gets exasperated with the Mime, yelling at him to do something. It is an original and funny sequence.
The character transformations for Roddy and Rita happen way too fast. One moment, they are fighting each other, pairing up simply because they have to. Then they are suddenly longing for each other’s company and they want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is not a subtle change and brings to mind the type of character development one would find in an animated series on television. Why couldn’t they find a few more moments, another story development to make this more believable? The problem is the kids won’t even notice this type of thing. It is the adult chauffeur’s who will and keeps the film from joining the hallowed ranks of animated classics.
During the screening, I noticed one father snoring loudly throughout the entire film. Clearly, his interest was not held. And I can’t believe he was the only one.
“Flushed Away” is cute, bright, and full of energy but has story problems and the larger canvas robs the animation of any intimacy. Why try to recreate the look of Claymation in CGI if you are going to try to make the landscape huge? Claymation begs for intimacy. “Flushed Away” is a film sure to keep the kids happy and adults will have a few laughs. It is a good animated effort, not as good as some I have seen this year (“Cars”, “Monster House”, Open Season”, “Over the Hedge”) and far better than others (“Ant Bully”).
Go to a bargain matinee.