November 9, 2006

Movie Review: Flushed Away

Aardman studios returns to the big screen for the first time since the absolutely delightful Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Some of the names have been changed, but the style remains the same. Nick Park helped to develop that Aardman style, pioneered with his clay creations, it has now been successfully translated to the computer generated medium with Flushed Away. Sure, Park was not invovled with this film, but there is no denying the influence he has had on what seems to be becoming the prevailing house style.

Flushed Away is a movie that is equal parts success and disappointment. I was actually quite let down as I left the theater. It is a frantic film that doesn't take the time the time to slow down and let its heart out. It seems to be content put all its eggs in the basket of style, while letting the story and character development twist in the wind. The end result falls into the realm of mediocrity. Which is sad, because there is a lot to like about the movie.

We start off with a bang. Roddy St. Jack (Hugh Jackman) is quickly introduced as the pet to the daughter of an upscale London family. The family goes out for the weekend, leaving Roddy alone with the run of the house. He parties with his friends, the Barbies and GI Joes, but his peace is disrupted by the arrival of a rather obnoxious rodent from the London underground. Roddy quickly finds himself on the receiving end of a swirlie to the underneath.

No sooner is he unceremoniously dumped into the sewers, Roddy finds himself in the middle of some Indiana Jones style drama between a treasure hunting rat named Rita (Kate Winslet) and The Toad (Ian McKellan). She has her eyes set on a priceless ruby, while The Toad's plans are much more underhanded. The movie becomes a chase with Roddy at its center.

Flushed Away is equal parts adventure and fish out of water tale. There are chases, comic misunderstandings, funny side characters, and an eye opening revelation for Roddy on the state of his existence and the hole that he never realized was there.

The look of the film is its biggest drawing point. It doesn't look like the animation being put out by any other house. It is fun to watch and has an inherent "cuteness" to it that doesn't cross the line into syrupy sappiness. The animation is clearly rooted in the style of its forefathers of clay, while also using the advantages afforded by CGI. The computer usage allows them to replicate the style, while also giving the animation a smoother look and provide the ability to show a lot more detail. It also gives the opportunity for more inventive action and chase sequences.

The action is a big plus for the movie, it is fast and looks great and injects energy into a lackluster story. While the story sort of sputters along to its inevitable conclusion, the action provies plenty of opportunity to show off what they could do while also keeping you from thinking to much about how you never really learn anything about the characters.

In addition to the animation, the film is populated with big name actors providing the voices. Oftentimes I feel the use of celebrity voices is out of place, serving only as a way to help put the butts in the seats while overlooking the plethora of skilled voice talent that is out there. However, the voices work well here and fit the characters. Hugh Jackman does a fine job as Roddy, while Kate Winslet is serviceable as the feisty Rita. Sir Ian McKellan does a great job as the villainous toad, and his French cousin is voiced by none other than Jean Reno, bringing a suave gruffness to the hit frog.

Oh, how could I forget the slugs. Providing comic relief in the manner of a Greek chorus, the slugs appear at regular intervals singing songs or providing some other comic relief. It may not be the ost original linking device, but it is done with a delightful style of child like innocence, a light taste of fun, reminding us why we go to see films like this.

Bottomline. Nice action, fun animation, good voice acting, mediocre to dull story. In the end it all balances out. It may be ultimately forgettable, but it does provide a fun time at the movies. The seeds of potential were there, I feel fortunate enough to have enjoyed it as much as I did. Best I can say is take the kids and enjoy it for what it is, something fun and different from the Disney style of animation (not that there is anything wrong with that style, just like a little variety).

Mildly Recommended.


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