So what happens when you give computers to a group of animators more used to working in plasticine and three dimensions? To a group of animators who have actually won awards, including Oscars, for animations modelled in plasticine and three dimensions? The result is Flushed Away, the first computer animated film from Aardman Animations,the Bristol based studio best known for the beloved multi-Oscar winning Wallace & Gromit films as well as Creature Comforts.
The plot of Aardman's third film after Chicken Run and Wallace And Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, is simple. Rodney St. James (Hugh Jackman) is a posh rat whose plush, but solitary life as a pet in Kensington, is thoroughly upset when he quite literally gets "flushed away" and into the sewers of London below. There he discovers a new world in a sewer society populated by rats, toads, frogs, and slugs, all living in a miniature version of London constructed from the rubbish that we flush away. In an attempt to get back to his life above, he becomes entangled in the affairs of an independent boat operator, Rita (Kate Winslet). She has problems of her own in that the local "underworld" boss, Toad (Sir Ian Mckellen), wants a gem in her possession to add to his collection of Royal memorabilia.
From this simple start, the plot trundles along predictable lines. Rodney must learn to be not so selfish and realise how dull his life is in London above; Rita must learn to be less independent and see past Rodney's snobbish exterior to see how lonely his life is; and Toad gets to be truly monstrous in trying to destroy Rat Town and set an army of frog assassins upon our heroes. Of course, Roders and Rita save the day and friendship, if not romance yet, blossoms.
Which is all enjoyable enough. But what you really want to know is, how good is the animation? Well, it is no Pixar, but then Pixar are proven masters at the artform, and you would not ask them to make films with plasticine either. Aardman still stick to the plasticine style though, and for the most part it works. Yet the animation has a sheen that only the computer could give, and it lacks the charm that we know and love from the handcrafted work of Wallace & Gromit and Creature Comforts. Certainly though, it is better than what you see in most American computer animated films and the story, if predictable, is also better served.
Similarly, the characters are predictable. Especially the two leads, which are too stereotypical. As are the villains, but they are much more fun, with Sir Ian Mckellen chewing up the pixels outrageously. Jean Reno, the hard man of French cinema, does the best French assassin since Leon, all sangfroid and Gallic charm, but along with his batrachian cohorts, does the stereotype full justice also. Of course, the froggy killers include a mime artist amidst their number. The film also feels dated, being set during the 2006 World Cup and too much the absurdist nightmare, having an England-Germany final.
The film does show some moments of inventiveness, which you would expect from Aardman. The chase sequences are fun, with the heroes' boat being chased through the sewers by villains riding electric whisks all in true James Bond style. The mime actually does something funny, acting out the details of the call being received on the mobile telephone he has strapped to his back.
The one joke that the adults in the audience will get is the discovery of a cockroach lurking behind the cooker alone and reading Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis in French. And then there are the slugs, which sing, dance, and grab almost every scene they are in, which is a bit of a problem if the most memorable characters in the film are the least important.
And that really is the problem with Flushed Away. Diverting, even entertaining for 90 minutes, but not a film you want to repeat in a hurry or indeed pick up the DVD. My companion for the evening, my 13-year daughter, Alex, was of the same mind. She liked the slugs a great deal, but could not recall anything else about the film. Smashing slugs, but otherwise unfortunately unmemorable