The pampered life of Kensington-dwelling pet mouse Roddy (Jackman) goes literally down the toilet when a sewer rat invades his home and flushes him down the loo.
There is only so much you can do with Plasticine and endless patience. Initially it’s rather disappointing to see Aardman — the indisputable overlords of the ’move it a little bit; take a picture’ school of animation — abandon their modelling clay and jump on the overburdened, increasingly homogenized CGI bandwagon. But it quickly becomes apparent that there is good reason for this and, pleasingly, that the studio hasn’t lost the thing that makes it the equal greatest animation house in the world: a highly intelligent love of the silly.
Aardman, like Pixar, doesn’t try too hard to appeal to every possible audience demographic with trendy casting, pop tunes by the current 15-minuters and an equal division of fart jokes for the kids and sly double entendres for Mum and Dad. Instead, it simply trusts in the fact that good jokes are funny to everyone. And Aardman knows funny. Flushed Away’s script is slick with witty banter and knowing asides, but it’s the visual gags rather than the dialogue that really elevate it. Surely there can be nobody in the world that won’t find the sight of a slug, screaming at the top of its lungs and slithering for its life at the speed of a club-footed octogenarian sprinting through custard, utterly hilarious. If there is, avoid them. And you could watch the film on a loop for a month and still not catch all the background detail.
The story takes a little while to get going, but once it hits its stride it pulls some extremely clever tricks out of its U-bend. There are hints that this is a rodent James Bond, but they’re not blunt or lazy. Town mouse Roddy (beautifully voiced, with just a hint of camp, by Hugh Jackman) might look like 00.7”, but he is neither suave nor brilliant; he’s silly and prone to getting hit in the crotch — which is obviously much more appealing. Toad (Ian McKellen) is a clearer nod to Bond villainy, but at least he boasts a masterplan that’s infinitely more clever and diabolical than 90 per cent of those thought up by Bond’s nemeses. The only character a little underdone is Rita (Kate Winslet), your common or garden old man’s vision of a feisty young woman, Union Jack trousers, stompy boots and all. However, her lack of much funny to say is a minor quibble, when the broad cast each has a standout moment of mirth.
The reason for Aardman’s switch to CGI seems to be one of scale. It might be possible to animate an entire sewer city and numerous boat chases with a few tubs of Play-Doh, but by the time it was finished we would likely all be in our graves and several model manipulators would have been driven to madness. The change in medium isn’t entirely successful. The bulging eyes and Tic Tac teeth that are Aardman’s trademark look a little cheap and ungainly when transposed to computer animation, which has realism and visual awe as its primary selling points. But the method of animation is simply a means to an end. It’s the best method for telling this story, and is entirely forgotten as soon as the jokes start flying.
A good gag is funny whether animated with computers, paint, clay or bits of old, soggy ipecleaner. But we’d rather Aardman didn’t try the latter for their next project.
The best animated movie of the year and only a whisker shy of the brilliance of Wallace and Gromit.