Thursday, November 2, 2006

The new computer-animated film “Flushed Away” begins with a rather vile premise: A hoity-toity pet mouse accidentally gets flushed into London’s sewers. After pulling some jokes from humor’s lowest depths (belching, bathrooms, etc.), it manages to vault beyond its odoriferous setup into a playful, innovative fantasy land where rodent bad guys ride electric mixers like Jet Skis and slugs become unintentional heroes.

While the story line may be novel, the animation style sure looks familiar — especially all the goofy, square-toothed grins and googly, full-moon eyes. If audiences see a resemblance to the clay-modeled “Chicken Run” and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” that’s because “Flushed” is from the same Oscar-winning team: DreamWorks Animation and Aardman Features.

The partners let their previous work inform “Flushed,” but by utilizing computer animation this go-around, they were able to enact much more complex scenarios than clay or Plasticine could support. The results are — for the most part — zippy, zany and fun. A sort of “Chicken Run” goes to Vegas.

Pampered pet mouse Roddy (Hugh Jackman) is the master of his playroom domain. He’s got his pick of the girls (Barbies, that is), plays a mean game of volleyball — Oops — did he just knock Barbie’s head off? — and drives a sweet toy sports car.

A slovenly sewer rat named Sid (Shane Ritchie) crashes Roddy’s party and, thus, earns a free ticket to the deluxe “whirlpool” — aka the toilet — where Roddy hopes to flush the perpetrator away. The plan backfires, and Roddy finds himself whirling down into underground oblivion (a cue for those who dislike potty humor to tune out for a few minutes).

There, our furry protagonist discovers a bustling, Piccadilly Circus-like mouse world. It’s fascinating, but all Roddy can think of is getting back to his civilized life.

He hopes that boat-owner Rita (Kate Winslet) can help transport him home, but she refuses — and, when the mouse mafia comes after her, Roddy becomes entangled in her struggles, too. They’ll need each other to avoid getting iced (literally) by the lecherous mob leader, Toad (Ian McKellen), and his henchmen, Spike, Whitey and Le Frog.

The conflict is drawn out as long as possible in order to extract the most laughs, and there are plenty to be had; from Toad’s bizarre shrine to the royal family to Le Frog’s romantic antics.

And the slugs — oh, the slugs. They pop up throughout the debacle, shrieking, scooting and serenading. Look for them to wrest the title of most beloved animated critter creation from “Ice Age’s” Skrat.

Yes, “Flushed Away” could stand to dump a few of the grimier gags (although they sort of come with the territory). For this thematic reason, it probably won’t become a classic — what movie about a john is? — but it surely ranks as a fine first CGI effort from the DreamWorks/Aardman collaborative.

Maybe next time around they’ll find dryer, firmer ground to stand on.


TITLE: “Flushed Away”

RATING: PG (crude humor and mild mouse peril)

CREDITS: Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell. Written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Chris Lloyd, Joe Keenan and Will Davies.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes



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