Almost 20 years after the release of Toy Story, I still haven’t fully embraced computer animation. There is a sterile quality about these films that I just can’t warm to. Everything seems too shiny, the lines too clean. Only a few have impressed me visually (Brave is one), but Flushed Away, from the makers of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, is a happy compromise. It retains the gummy, hand shaped feel of Aardman’s previous plasticine work while using technology to enhance scenes that would have taken years to film using motion capture. The result is a picture that’s sometimes rough around the edges but whose animation is full of personality.
There are two great advantages that computer animation immediately brings to this Aardman production in particular. The first is the viscosity of the water, which appears in abundance. After all, the movie is about a rat getting flushed down a toilet and into a sewer. Roddy (Hugh Jackman), a debonair but caged and lonely above ground rat, spends most of his time in the bowels of London on a boat built and piloted by Rita (Kate Winslet). They navigate the currents as he tries to find a way back home and she tries to evade The Toad (Ian McKellan), who is after some stolen goods. Previous Aardman films showed characters splashed with water or coffee dribbling out of the percolator, but these scenes look to be missing a dozen frames per second.
The stilted movement and doughy consistency of liquids has its charms but would be an obvious barrier to this film. Some of the most memorable scenes take place on the water. Roddy and Rita dodge Toad’s henchmen who come speeding up on high powered hand mixers, only to find themselves whipped into a frothy mess when Rita lets loose a packet of pudding mix. Computer animation is also used to good effect at the climax as Toad attempt to unleash a torrent of water in order to wipe out the rats and make way for his thousands of tadpole children.
The scope of this movie is also much grander. Aardman often delights on details, in part because the camera tightens in on the action. Flushed Away instead zooms out to reveal the vastness of an underground London, fastidiously fashioned out of bits and bobs. This allows the characters greater range of movement, and indeed Roddy and Rita find themselves swinging high and low as they elude capture. I got a childish flush of awe looking on at such a meticulous, handcrafted world in miniature.
It’s the playdoughy touch that allows the animation at least to stand out. Though the characters may move more gracefully, they still look like they’ve been carefully, and lovingly, kneaded and pinched into position. I like that each noodle of Rita’s hair feels like its been rolled between some animator’s palms or that the singing slugs might have been squished into shape before being mounted on a lilypad.
Flushed Away does suffer from a lumpy plot, however. At first, Toad is after a jewel, but once that idea is exhausted, writers have him retrieve a stolen cable that he needs to execute his plan. Then his French cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno) hops in belatedly to help with the amphibious domination. Kids probably won’t mind; there’s literal toilet humor to appease them. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of laughs for adults, plus a little soul searching about materialism and what we really value in life. Despite a few hiccups, this movie is an entertaining and satisfying parade of Britishness and has even nudged me in the direction of computer animation.
Prod: Cecil Kramer, David Sproxton, Peter Lord
Dir: David Bowers, Sam Fell
Writer: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Simon Nye
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy, Shane Richie
Time: 85 min
Country: United Kingdom