Flushed Away

Flushed Away

****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

From Creature Comforts to the Wallace & Gromit shorts, and from Chicken Run to The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the creations of Aardman have always represented a perfect match of form to content. For what better vehicle could there be for their particularly British brand of hopeless nostalgia, daft pluck and old-world charm than that most passé of animated forms, claymation?

So for their legions of fans, it was hardly welcome news that the next Aardman feature, Flushed Away, was abandoning stop-motion modelling altogether for the sort of high-end computer-generated 3D animation more normally associated with their American collaborators Dreamworks. Certainly unlike its Aardman predecessors, which have always seemed to take place in a little Britain permanently stuck in the 1950s, Flushed Away has an urban location that is right up-to-date, with plasma TVs, cellphones and the London Eye forming just some of the film's background furniture; and yet in fact Aardman's transition to CG here has less to do with some modernistic urge than with the requirements of a plot in which water (an absolute no-no for claymation) plays a key role.

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Still, as well as basing their computer-generated characters on handmade clay models and using programmes that cleverly mimic the imperfect surfaces of plasticine (thumbprints and all), more importantly the good folk at Aardman have held fast to their tradition of solid storytelling, endearing characters, and jokes by the bowlful – and while this is an Anglo-American co-production, the film's setting, sensibility and spirit remain thoroughly British. Put simply, Flushed Away always feels closer to a chaotic pantomime than to a slick sit-com – and is much the better for it. And even if it is a product of state-of-the-art technology, it still portrays a makeshift rodent underworld built entirely from old junk.

When Roddy St James (voiced by Hugh Jackman), the pampered pet mouse to an affluent Kensington family, is flushed down the toilet by his unwelcome guest the sewer rat Sid (Shane Richie), his life quite literally goes down the drain. Lost in an underground rodent city, Roddy turns to Rita (Kate Winslet), dauntless captain of the 'Jammy Dodger', to help him find his way back home through the maze of pipes and aqueducts. Rita, however, has problems of her own, pursued by the wicked Toad (Ian McKellen) and his two hopeless rat henchmen Spike (Andy Serkis) and Whitey (Bill Nighy) for a precious royal ruby.

The ruby turns out to be a maguffin, but between their flirtatious bickering Roddy and Rita discover that Toad has a nefarious plan to bring on "the glorious amphibian age" by exterminating a few million rats during half time of the up-coming World Cup final. Roddy must decide whether to return to his lonely life of privilege up top, or to help stop Toad, his cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno), and a whole team of batrachian ninja henchmen, before Rita, her family and fellow cheese-eating citizens all end up being flushed away.

The plot of Flushed Away combines elements of The African Queen with the pirate and gangster genres, while its protagonist fancies himself being somewhere between James Bond and Elvis, and there are also comic allusions to films as varied as Finding Nemo, The Fly, Toys, Bridget Jones' Diary and Batman (the 1966 version, of course). That this unfolds in a netherworld of rodents, bedbugs, cockroaches and maggots, all to the accompaniment of a barbershop chorus of chirpy slugs, only adds to the film's pleasingly imaginative absurdity.

This being a characteristically British film, there are digs at the French (who are quite literally frogs) and at the Americans (one of whom is shown insisting that his British hosts know nothing about football) – but most of all there are endless affectionate swipes at the British themselves, and at that old English obsession, class. Roddy is a 'pedigree' rat forced to slum it, Sid is a cockney (read 'common') rat who goes soft as soon as he goes up in the world, while Toad's villainy stems from a ludicrously inflated sense of entitlement (he was once a young Prince Charles' favourite pet, don't you know?) – all in a miniature crittertown modelled on the London that it sits below, in an all-new vision of Little Britain.

Exciting, adventurous, and flush with visual and verbal gags, Aardman's latest stands out from the many other children's animations released this year because it seems a labour of love rather than a soulless commodity. Not only does it raise the profile of creatures usually dismissed as pests (never before have slugs been so endearing), but it might even, rather topically in an age when rubbish heaps (and water levels) are on the rise, make children think about what actually happens to their waste – when, that is, they are not laughing themselves silly.

Reviewed on: 24 Nov 2006
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Flushed Away packshot
A pet mouse flushed down a toilet struggles to find his way home, encountering all manner of adventures along the way.
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Read more Flushed Away reviews:

Nyk Zietari ****
Amber Wilkinson ****

Director: David Bowers, Sam Fell

Writer: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Chris Lloyd, Joe Keenan and William Davies; story by Sam Fell, Peter Lord, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

Starring: voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Shane Richie, Kathy Burke, David Suchet, Miriam Margolyes

Year: 2006

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US/UK

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