Aardman/DreamWorks deal a Flush

Flushed Away

on November 03, 2006 by Kim Williamson
Sadly for reviewers who like to work a film's title into negative comic commentary, Flushed Away is a very fine addition to the animation art form. It represents what might be called the first true collaboration between Bristol, England-based Aardman Features, the home of Wallace and Gromit, and Glendale, Calif.-based DreamWorks Animation, the home of all those Opteron HP rendering farms. It's a combination that explains Flushed Away 's intriguing look: The clay-figure character curves and lighting of Aardman but done CGI. Although American audiences might take a few minutes to adjust to the style, the design and action have a freedom beyond the reach of plasticine and molding.

The story has the rollick characteristic of such Aardman efforts as Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the firm's previous production, which won critical accolades but not much coinage after its release in October 2005; its $56.1 million stateside take contributed to a 67 percent drop in DreamWorks Animation profit in that fourth quarter. Will Flushed Away work better -- given that it lacks known characters and is set primarily in a sewer? The filmmakers have brought much to bear: winning lead characterizations, a bouncy score, a romping pace...and singing slugs, which pop up again and again much the way the mice did in Babe.

The story: Left home alone while his wealthy human caretakers go on vacation, pet rat Roddy St. James (voiced by Hugh Jackman) lives a swinging bachelor life in their upper-crust Kensington mansion -- with the lifeless dolls and toys of a little girl. And, it turns out, with a sewer rat, Sid (Shane Richie), who breaks in and decides to make himself king of the manor. Roddy's scheme to get rid of Sid ends with, well, Roddy in the potty, as the pampered pet gets flushed into the sewer. There, however, he finds an underground metropolis, looking homemade yet magnificent, and strikes up with Rita (Kate Winslet), a street-savvy rat who skippers her own boat. The two take an instant dislike to each other but, after comic contretemps, strike a bargain: If Rita takes Roddy back to the surface world, he will repay her with jewels. Standing in their way is Toad (Ian McKellen), who has nefarious plans not only for the duo but all ratdom, and his hapless henchmen Spike (Andy Serkis) and Whitey (Bill Nighy), plus French cousin, the secret agent-ish Le Frog (Jean Reno). Naturally, what Roddy and Rita find during their adventures is nothing they expected.

Despite its Euro-tilted setting and voicings, Flushed Away has a cosmopolitan, everywhere feel that Wallace and Gromit's tales couldn't; the most British elements involve continuing coverage of soccer matches and a moment when, girding for battle, a group of French frogs -- how does one put this -- surrender. Similarly, the lead characters have an everyman quality that is very winning, and the five writers deepen their personalities with an emotional deftness amid the camp and comicality. First-time directors David Bowers and Sam Fell keep the visuals in pace, crafting propulsive action set pieces within crisply colored environments -- but never at cost of personality. Nearly a candidate for one of the year's top 10 films, Flushed Away is perhaps the best animated work since -- well, since we last saw Wallace and Gromit. Distributor: Paramount
Voices: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis and Shane Richie
Directors: David Bowers and Sam Fell
Screenwriters: Dick Clement & Ian La Fresnais and Christopher Lloyd & Joe Keenan and Will Davies
Producers: Cecil Kramer, Peter Lord and David Sproxton
Genre: Animated
Rating: PG for crude humor and some language
Running time: 88 min.
Release Date: November 3, 2006

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