The claymation masterminds behind “Wallace & Gromit” got together with the computer gurus who brought us “Shrek” at DreamWorks Animation to make “Flushed Away.”
But this is one of those times in which the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts.
This comic tale about Roddy St. James (voiced by the ever versatile Hugh Jackman), a pampered pet rat who gets flushed down the toilet of his posh London penthouse and into the sewer, has plenty of thrilling moments. A wild boat chase through an elaborate underground canal system is especially breathtaking.
And we’ve gotta admit, the singing slugs who slink about the underground providing the movie’s soundtrack, with their big eyes and tiny shrieks, are pretty darn cute — so much so, they even manage to make “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” tolerable. (Come Christmas, they’ll probably make excellent stocking stuffers, too.)
Despite being deeply steeped in British culture and dry humor, though, the film from directors David Bowers and Sam Fell (and an army of writers) simply lacks the simple, delicate charm that has marked everything Aardman Features has ever produced on its own (like “Chicken Run” and the Oscar-winning “Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”).
It’s too frantic, too loud — which makes it too much like every other all-star, animated, talking-animal movie that’s come out this year. And there have been many — one of which, the recent “Open Season,” this new film coincidentally resembles way too closely.
Like the domesticated grizzly bear in that film, Roddy has a good life. Once he’s thrust into a wild, unknown situation with other creatures, all he wants to do is get back to the comforts of home — until, that is, he realizes that maybe he is home after all.
Predictable, but it means well.
Even before Roddy ends up there, though — courtesy of a crass sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie), who bursts into his home through the sink, then sends him down the loo — there are tons of clever touches. Roddy takes over the house when his family goes on holiday, envisioning himself as James Bond (a humorous nod to the fact that Jackman’s name was tossed around as a possible Bond successor) and driving the dolls around in a toy convertible.
Once he arrives in this secret world beneath the surface (following an exciting, swirling slide through the pipes) he finds a detailed replica of the city above, constructed entirely of trash and random pilfered items. The rats and other various furry and slimy creatures watch football on the telly and enjoy their tea time like proper Brits. (And they have the same bug-eyed look and wide, crazed smiles of previous Aardman figures, only they’re rendered digitally, not molded by hand from clay.)
Kate Winslet is sufficiently feisty as Rita the rat, a sassy boat captain who reluctantly comes to Roddy’s rescue and eventually serves as his unlikely love interest.
Ian McKellen and Jean Reno have great chemistry as the power-hungry Toad, who hates rodents and has his own dastardly plans for the underground, and his French cousin, the worldly, snobbish Le Frog, who travels with a posse of ninja assassins. (They’re civilized enough, though, to stop for a five-hour dinner before killing anyone.)
Seems Rita has a ruby the Toad is after. Roddy offers to find her a new ruby of her own at his home “up top” if she’ll help him get there. Of course, the plan doesn’t go nearly so swimmingly.
Kids will enjoy the fact that it’s fast-paced and colorful; adults will like the modern-day touches and the pop-culture references (which thankfully aren’t too numerous or suffocating).
But in the end, “Flushed Away” will probably make you want to revisit some old, classic “Wallace & Gromit” short. “The Wrong Trousers,” perhaps. That would be spot-on.