Slugging It Out
If Flushed Away looks familiar, there’s no mystery to it. The movie’s a product of Aardman Animation, the British outfit that has turned out Chicken Run and the Wallace & Gromit films. The medium here is pixels rather than clay, but the computer animators render the characters in Nick Park’s easily recognizable style. This may sound promising to fans of Park’s glorious claymation movies. The result, though, is disappointingly in the same vein as the Hollywood animated films that have littered our cineplexes this year.
Hugh Jackman provides the voice of Roddy, a pet mouse to a wealthy family in Kensington, living in a cage that’s more like a small palace and having his every need catered to except for that of rodent companionship. That changes when a sewer rat named Sid (voiced by Shane Richie) crawls into the house while Roddy’s human caretakers are away on vacation. Sid flushes Roddy down the toilet, and the cozened mouse winds up in a city of rats in the sewer system. The only one who can help a desperate Roddy reach the surface is a tomboyish, boat-driving rat named Rita (voiced by Kate Winslet) whom he promptly starts bickering with.
This is yet another animated movie about animals having secret lives hidden away from us humans, but that’s not all this film shares with other kiddie fare. It also traffics in the same rapid-fire pop-culture references that we’ve seen from dozens of American animated films, something that Park’s movies pointedly don’t do. To be sure, the references are thoroughly British — there are a fair amount of jokes about soccer and fish-and-chip stands, and when Rita’s dotty aunt mistakes Roddy for Tom Jones, he helpfully launches into a hip-swiveling rendition of “She’s a Lady.”
All that stuff only amounts to an unsuccessful diversion from the story’s thinness. The subplot with Rita getting in trouble with a villainous toad (voiced by Ian McKellen) over a ruby thankfully turns out to be a red herring, but not so for the toad’s plans to kill all the rats in the sewer. His motivations are explained in an embarrassingly weak backstory, and his unfunny lackeys (voiced by Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis) enjoy way too much screen time.
It’s not all bad news here. The dashing Jackman isn’t afraid to portray Roddy as a total wuss, and there are the makings of a nice running gag in which the rats repeatedly encounter slugs that serve either as comic stooges or as the chorus for a musical number. (I have to admit, I laughed when three of them floated by Rita’s boat singing an a cappella version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”) Even this, though, is ruined because the movie brings them on too often. The slugs and their comic shtick lose their weirdness because of the repetition. How appropriate for a movie that’s just too familiar.
Voices by Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet. Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell. Written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Chris Lloyd, Joe Keenan, and William Davies. Rated PG.