Flushed Away Movie Review
Flushed Away is a prototypical anthropomorphic-fish-out-of-water tale, about a pampered pet rat named Roddy St. James (voiced by Hugh Jackman) who gets accidentally flushed down the toilet of his owners' posh Kensington flat and ends up out of his element in a rat-sized version of London down in the sewers. His attempts to make his way back up top get him mixed up with a sassy lass, Rita (Kate Winslet), who is on the run from a local crime boss and his thugs. Of course, because this is an animated family film, the boss is an ill-tempered toad and one of the henchmen is an albino former lab rat, but the ideas are universal.
There are certainly moments of Flushed Away that are funny and clever, but those are also balanced out by moments that were decidedly... not. Much of it is just silly; the ubiquitous slugs who provide musical commentary throughout have flawless comic timing, for instance, as does a Gallic henchfrog. But too much of the film goes for the easy -- and often gross -- joke, exploring the full possibility of punchlines from farts, belches and raw sewage; there is not a crotch-pummeling gag that Flushed Away does not love. But even if we ignore the fact that, while I am not a boy rat, I don't imagine a blow to the little rat jewels has the same effect as it does on a human, it doesn't make a series of five, six, or seven bashes to the nether regions particularly comedic.
There are a few jokes for the grown-ups too, a strain of polite British humor that is some of the only evidence that this is a product of Aardman studios -- the warning label on the liquid nitrogen, for instance, warns "Rather Cold," and not a single jab at the mime-and-misery loving French is left unpoked.
But even with spots of cleverness for the parents and the endless stream of potty humor (forgive the unavoidable pun) for the kiddies, there were many, many a long stretch where no one at all was laughing. Too much of the movie had to make way for the frenetic cramming in of unnecessary plot, more hyperactive characters, or cutesy tracking shots set to a tragically hip soundtrack (seriously, what are the Dandy Warhols doing here?). It just ends up feeling forced and vaguely soulless, like the movie must be likable because it crossed every item off of an amiability checklist.
Aardman stepped away from the claymation technique here that was the territory of their lovely Wallace & Gromit work -- evidently, it's because Flushed Away relies so heavily on water, which is not stop-motion friendly -- but it's an odd choice to explore the realm of making CGI animation look as much like clay as possible. Odd, but not unforgivable. Far more tragic was the choice to use a star-studded cast -- talented actors, most of them, but not voice actors. And the leads are often overshadowed by the character actors in supporting roles; in this genre Jackman just can't hold a candle to Andy Serkis or Bill Nighy.
For all that it can be enjoyable, Flushed Away just seems slick, like a paint-by-numbers animated adventure that hits all the right marks but has no real energy of its own. There are wacky hijinx and marquee talent and clever moments, but it still rather feels like another of those movies that you've seen before -- and probably again and again, if you're a parent.