Flushed Away

Featuring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, and Ian McKellen. Rated general. For showtimes, please see page 79

There are plenty of cartoons starring talking animals, but an Aardman is good to find. For 30 years, from its workshops in Bristol, England, Aardman Animations has been making films that are among the most popular and accomplished of the genre: Chicken Run, Angry Kid, and the Wallace & Gromit shorts and feature. The signature Aardman look—the characters wry and chinless, with big teeth and expressive hands—came about in large part through the use of stop-motion modelling, the technique used in their films up until now.

But the real key to the success of Aardman has always been its reverence for character development. Wacky antics take a back seat until the audience spends some time with the protagonists, learning how they live and think. In that respect, Flushed Away is a traditional Aardman product, even though it is the first from the studio to be developed entirely using computer animation (and was done as a coproduction with DreamWorks Animation, with whom it has since parted company). The result is a movie that has glossier and more elaborately designed backgrounds while retaining the traditional values of storytelling and performance—and, of course, talking animals.

In Flushed Away, our heroes are mice. Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet provide the voices of Roddy and Rita, mismatched comic foils turned into romantic-comedy archetypes. Roddy is a mouse of privilege, the pet of a wealthy Kensington family. Victimized by a home invasion, he finds himself flushed into the sewers of London, where he discovers a flourishing underground community of small creatures, chief among them Toad, voiced by Ian McKellen. Toad’s nefarious plan to rid his miniature fiefdom of its rodent majority is gradually revealed over the course of the film. At the outset, and mostly in order to get the principals together, Toad only seems interested in recovering valuable cargo from feisty scrap dealer Rita. The posh but clumsy Roddy manages to secure Rita’s cooperation for his escape to the surface in exchange for his home’s riches.

Tirelessly pursued by thuggish rats Whitey and Spike (Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis) and a mysterious mercenary known as Le Frog (Jean Reno), Roddy and Rita flee to Kensington while conducting an endearingly awkward cross-class flirtation. The Big Moral of the film seems to be that possessing money is no substitute for having the true friendships only found among the honest proletariat (aside from the fact that it is one of the unwashed who originally sends Roddy spiralling into the aforementioned gritty milieu). The film-geek discovery is that Flushed Away was not directed by the famous Nick Park but by his former storyboard artists, David Bowers and Sam Fell. For the rest of us, the revelation could be that slugs make acceptable comic characters, despite basically being faceless lumps of repugnant protein. Clearly, anyone can make penguins and cats into something cute, but slugs? This is genius.