Web Exclusive: Flushed Away

    There is a moment in “Flushed Away” when our furry little hero finds himself underground in the middle of a rat-sized replica of sprawling London. Much like its subterranean model, the film is an admirably pleasing, yet still vaguely unsatisfying, imitation of much more masterful creations.

    The new animated feature from Aardman Animation, producers of both “Chicken Run” and “Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” tells the story of a pampered pet mouse named Roddy St. James (Hugh Jackman) who lives in a caged equivalent to a golden Playboy Mansion. When his owners leave on vacation, Roddy’s own recreation time is rudely interrupted by the arrival of uncouth and unclean sewer rat Sid (Shane Richie). Roddy’s attempt to con Sid into returning to the seedy underbelly from which he crawled fails miserably, resulting in the desperate mouse diving head first down the toilet and into an underground sewer world.

    His struggle to return to a palatial lifestyle tangles him in the predicament of a tough and plucky (aren’t they always?) redheaded scavenger rat named Rita (Kate Winslet). Rita’s archnemesis Toad (Ian McKellen), a cross between a mob boss and Jabba the Hutt, not only wants Rita’s ruby — which is to be her family’s only source of income — but to destroy the entire rat population and replace it with his own progeny. Toad is quite an ambitious villain, and under his employ are the usual dumb and dumber henchmen Spike (Andy Serkis) and albino rat Whitey (Bill Nighy), later joined by Toad’s cousin Le Frog (a brilliant Jean Reno) and his French ninja army.

    “Flushed” brims with subtle-but-droll British humor that demands a second — or even third — viewing in order to catch all the sly nuances within the animation and dialogue. Created completely with the help of CGI, though the characters still retain Aardman’s trademark claymation style, the film is visually vivacious and intricately splendid.

    The cast itself is a perfect ensemble. Jackman’s smooth voice is suave enough to be charismatic, yet at the same time can carry off a naive, even wimpy, quality. Winslet imbues Rita with just the right amount of moxie to make her character aggressive but lovable, and McKellen’s melodramatic voicing of Toad suggests he might be enjoying himself just a little too much.

    One persistent problem that does plague the movie is its weak character objective. In “Chicken Run,” one of Aardman’s better-developed films, it is easy to identify with the chicken’s desperation to, as one character puts it, “either die free chickens or die trying.” Here, the audience never really shares Roddy’s urgency to get back home. In addition, the exuberance and charm of the minor characters often outshines that of the main character; in fact, the ubiquitous and bizarre-looking slugs, with delightful readiness to croon an apropos pop song, are the hands-down scene-stealers of the movie.

    “Flushed Away” may sweep you up for an entertaining and whimsical ride, but it leaves you wondering why you took the ride in the first place.

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