No other negative review since my against-the-grain critique of 2002's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
" inspired quite as much hate mail as the one I wrote for 2005's "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit
." The British, claymation-centric Aardman Animations unit has a whole lot of fans who not only admire their work, but seem to worship at their feet. The studio's first major collaboration with Dreamworks2000's "Chicken Run
"was a rousing success, and the film was a wonderfully original and entertaining piece of work. The audience love for "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit
," however, was mind-boggling to me; the picture was empty, boring, a waste of a promising premise, and not half as clever as it thought it was. Unfortunately, Aardman's latest co-venture with Dreamworks, "Flushed Away," stays true to this lowly description.
Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is an upper crust rat living with a wealthy family in London. He's got it made, or at least he thinks he does, until a run-in with a slobbish sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie) leaves him flushed down the toilet and hopelessly lost in the sewer world of Ratropolis. Roddy's only hope of returning to the privileged world he once knew lies in the hands of adventurous, boat-sailing scavenger Rita (Kate Winslet). Bigger problems await the unlikely pair when the rodent-hating Toad (Ian McKellen) sets out to claim a valuable ruby in Rita's possessionthe same jewel that Roddy makes the mistake of destroying.
Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell, "Flushed Away" evaporates from the memory about as fast as an ice cube melts in a warm drink. Watching the film, there is nothing to latch onto or care about or open the viewer's imaginations. The jokes are largely stale or strictly throwaway, with references ranging from Tom Jones to the 1960s "Batman" television series to even the long-defunct Spice Girls. Potshots at the French feel out of place and inappropriate. The characters aren't any better, with Roddy and Rita showing only occasional spunk as the sparring protagonists, and the villainsa gang of frogsso poorly used and uninteresting as to barely register. The voice talent, with Hugh Jackman (2006's "The Prestige
") and Kate Winslet (2006's "Little Children
") headlining, isn't matched by the dull screenplay, which took a ridiculous five writers to pen. The eclectic song tracks, including Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself" and The Dandy Warhols' "Bohemian Like You," are spirited but too obvious in their intentions and sometimes awkwardly outdated.
The visual scheme is also hit-and-miss. In lieu of stop-motion animation, Aardman has opted to mimic the look of claymation via computer animation. The results allow for a fuller scope than what conventional stop-motion is capable of, but the clunky movements of the characters' mouths when they speak just looks messy when placed atop more modern animation technology. Much of the picture is more grimy than pleasing to the eye, although this may have more to do with its unappetizing sewer setting than the skills of the animators. Either way, the lack of detail and originality in depicting the underground cityscape of the rats is a major missed opportunity.
"Flushed Away" is dreary, lifeless and disposable, much like the waste that usually ends up swirling down the drain of a toilet. The only charming moments come from a gaggle of serenading slugs who follow Roddy and Rita on their journey and comment on it through song, but they don't appear frequently enough to make a real impact. As for the moral of the storythat home is where the heart isit is an afterthought bereft of emotion and earnestness; "Cars
" tread similar ground earlier this year and was superior in every way, exposing a humanity to its automobiles that directors David Bowers and Sam Fell are at a loss in doing for their rats. "Flushed Away" deserves to be just that.