Directed by: David Bowers, Sam Fell
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy
The first venture into computer animation for the traditionally clay-oriented Aardman Animations (the makers of the Wallace and Gromit series and Chicken Run (2000)), Flushed Away manages to set itself apart from the current onslaught of animated films. Despite trading Claymation for CGI (supposedly due to the fact that a number of scenes include water, which is apparently difficult to animate using clay), the film maintains the charm and wit of its Aardman predecessors, making it by far the best animated film to come out this year.
While everything about Flushed Away, from its all-star cast to its plot, should scream "generic," the makers seem to have had enough sense to keep themselves from falling into the traps that have plagued so many other recent animated movies. Instead of simply using their names to help sell tickets, the A-list actors used in the film actually seem to be cast to suit their characters (watch The Ant Bully (2006) if you want a good example of how not to cast an animated movie). The animation itself maintains the look and feel of previous Aardman films, since the process that was used is supposed to replicate the look and feel of Claymation. Therefore, everything from the surface textures to the movements of the characters have slight imperfections, giving the movie a more human, hands-on feel, and retaining the charm that goes along with Claymation.
The film follows Roddy (Hugh Jackman), a high-class pet mouse, who accidentally gets flushed down the toilet into the busy sewer city of Ratropolis. He then meets up with Rita (Kate Winslet), a scavenger who's on the run from The Toad (Ian McKellen). It's all standard "stranger in a strange land/journey home" fare, but it works because the plot is simple enough for children to keep up with, while there's enough imagination and inventiveness in the film to keep it entertaining for adults.
While it has a handful of bodily function gags and shots to the crotch (that probably number in the double digits, but they all take place in two scenes), the majority of the film's humor, not to mention storyline, is Anglocentric (the entire climax centers around the idea that England is playing in the World Cup final), meaning many of the jokes are on the subtle side. However, the film isn't simply filled with dry British humor; instead, it's just part of the mix, allowing the film to be entertaining for all ages (there was a group of children with their parents at the viewing I went to, and the grown-ups seemed to be the one's laughing the loudest). This also keeps this animated film from disintegrating into yet another jumble of wisecracking animals, and lends a certain sophistication to the proceedings.
While it's probably not as good as Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Flushed Away comes very close, and is way ahead of any other animated film so far this year. It's family entertainment that the entire family can get something out of. What a novel concept. Rated PG for crude humor and some language.
-- reviewed by Justin Souther