| Flushed Away |
Dir. David Bowers, Sam Fell; writ. Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, et al; feat. Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy, Jean Reno (PG)
They’d be well advised to disregard those expectations, though, and walk into Flushed as if it were simply this month’s new ‘toon for tots. By those low standards, the movie’s perfectly serviceable. Judging it against its predecessors could make you want to cry.
That’s because the writers and directors (a crew, notably, that doesn’t include Aardman star Nick Park) almost seem deliberate in their rejection of the quirky charm fans have come to expect. Going beyond the move to CGI — where they mimic the old stop-motion look in some ways, but don’t go far enough — the filmmakers find too many ways to make Flushed ordinary: the beyond-cliché setup, where faceless humans go on vacation, leaving their pet mouse to his misadventures; the cheap use of contemporary pop songs; the surprising appearance of some truly lazy toilet humor. (That last element is admittedly in keeping with a story set in the sewer; still, you have to be embarrassed on the filmmakers’ behalf when they string together four — no, wait, five! — consecutive blows to our hero’s crotch and call it comedy.)
If all this makes the first half-hour painful for Gromit lovers, it may not even register with the rest of the family-film audience. The story’s nothing new, but it’s peppy and colorful: Having been flushed out of the luxe London townhouse where he’s a pet, Roddy discovers a tiny, rodent-only city, filling the sewers with a replica of the world above. He hooks up with a spunky boat captain named Rita in the hopes that she’ll navigate him back topside, but the pair run afoul of a big toad who, when not obsessing over the Royal Family, has plans to eradicate the mouse town and repopulate it with his tadpoles.
While the characters and action are pretty much stock elements (with voices supplied, as they usually are these days, by stars like Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman), the movie gets unexpected mileage out of some predictable ingredients. Jean Reno, for example, leads a troupe of special-forces frogs from France, getting more laughs than he has any right to expect — the best bit involves that infinitely overused Gallic stereotype, the mime. A recurring gag involving sewer slugs with eyes on stalks and a perpetual expression of surprise is the most charming thing in the film, reminiscent of the innocently mischievous little bunnies in Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
In a box-office climate that has yet to tire of not-so-funny funny animals, you can understand why Aardman might want to crank some quick dough out of the CGI arena. Here’s hoping they never put Wallace and Gromit through these paces, though — at least, not if the studio’s resident whimsy-crafters can’t be bothered to get behind the helm.