[Screen It]

(2006) (voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet) (PG)

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Animated Comedy: A pampered pet mouse ends up flushed into a miniature, sewer-based version of London where he teams up with a tomboy rat to stop a nefarious toad from flushing away their city.
Roddy (voice of HUGH JACKMAN) is a pampered pet mouse who lives the good life, especially when his human owners go on holiday, thus enabling him to party with various inanimate dolls and other toys. But his vacation is cut short when rowdy sewer rat Sid (voice of SHANE RICHIE) suddenly shows up and decides to make himself at home. Taken aback by Sid's looks and demeanor, Roddy tries to get rid of him by convincing the soccer hooligan that the toilet is a Jacuzzi, but the street smart rat turns the tables and instead flushes Roddy down the loo.

Which leads to him traveling through the plumbing and sewer system until he lands in an underground, miniaturized replica of London. There, he meets Rita (voice of KATE WINSLET), a tomboy rat who's in the middle of stealing a ruby back from Spike (voice of ANDY SERKIS) and Whitey (voice of BILL NIGHY), two rat goons who work for local villain Toad (voice of IAN McKELLEN).

Once the favored pet of Prince Charles before being unceremoniously replaced and then flushed into the sewers, Toad has a diabolical plan involving the World Cup finals, halftime, and humans' need to use the bathroom nearly all at once, thus ensuring an epic flood of water arriving at their city not long thereafter.

However, not only does Rita have the ruby he stole from her, but also an important cable needed to make his plan work. When Spike and Whitey can't get the job done, Toad then calls in Le Frog (voice of JEAN RENO) and his team of French, martial arts experienced amphibians.

While Rita and Roddy initially don't like or trust each other, they realize they must count on the other to get Roddy back home before his human owners return, and stop Sid before he can carry out his plan.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Maybe it's because they have a reputation for being so proper and fastidious, but it seems the Brits had an early corner on developing what would become the modern day toilet, a.k.a. the loo. Many Americans, on the other hand, being of the throwaway generation, use the plumbing fixture to dispose of items originally not intended for the device.

While many an inanimate object has been flushed away, a particular favorite seems to be dead or unwanted small pets, especially if they're somehow water related (thus the traditional repository for goldfish and presumably the source of those monstrous alligators supposedly in the New York City sewer system).

Both sensibilities and many inanimate and living objects have been given that treatment and now populate the potty-themed "Flushed Away," the latest animated comedy from the studio responsible for "Chicken Little" as well as the adorable "Wallace and Gromit" shorts and feature film. Yet, it marks a first for Aardman Animations in that while the subjects might look like the Plasticine models animated via the "claymation" type process, they're actually all computer generated, as are the various settings and backgrounds.

Accordingly, the various characters have the sort of molded appearance where they seemingly exist in the same world as "W&G," albeit on a much smaller scale. You see, deep in the bowels of the London sewer system exists a miniature version of London, where all sorts of discarded items have been assembled to represent the famous, full-scale landmarks up top.

And living in that scale model aren't shrunken humans, but rather the normal denizens of such a locale, rats, slugs and such, although given the anthropomorphic treatment in that they speak, walk upright, sing and more. We're introduced to this world by Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a solitary pet mouse who ends up being flushed out of his posh Kensington home by a sewer rat hooligan by the name of Sid (Shane Richie) who's decided Roddy's place would make a great home for watching the World Cup finals.

Up until this point, Roddy's life has consisted of living in his cage until his human owners depart on a holiday, which is when he parties with the children's Barbie dolls, toy soldiers and such, "Toy Story" style (although they remain inanimate). Now thrust, or flushed, out of his comfort zone, the mouse must find his way back home and hopes he might catch a ride with the lovely Rita, meter maid -- uh, tomboyish girl rat -- on her sewer river vessel, the Jammy Dodger.

She has bigger fish to fry, however, in the form of the bulbous Toad (voiced by Ian McKellen), an amphibian with an ax to grind regarding a past trauma. She thinks he's sent his minions -- the diminutive but aggressive Spike (Andy Serkis) and the lumbering and dimwitted Whitey (Bill Nighy) -- after the ruby she's retrieved back from them after they stole it from her.

But there's an ulterior method behind Toad's madness - which includes him employing a crew of French frogs led by Le Frog (amusingly voiced by Jean Reno) -- that goes beyond that and ultimately poses a danger for everyone in mini-London. Accordingly, our unlikely outsider hero must garner the wherewithal and courage to save the day before everything is flushed away.

While nothing exceptionally grand from an overall plot standpoint, it's with some of the characterizations and fine, overall abundant details where the film really shines. Most of the characters are comedic turns on standard British film characters -- the proper gentleman pushed into action, the resourceful tomboy, the soccer hooligan, the street thugs, etc. -- and much of the humor stems from their actions and interactions with others, some of which is straight from the "Wallace and Gromit" school of comedy.

Other bits -- created by writers Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Chris Lloyd, Joe Keenan and Will Davies -- feel inspired by the old Looney Tunes shorts. That includes a French mime frog holding a camera phone over his face with the villain's talking head on the screen, as he gesticulates and acts out what the crime boss is saying, much to the latter's long distance annoyance.

Then there's a pleasantly diverting and fairly entertaining running gag featuring a bunch of slugs. Whether screaming in bloody terror in response to Roddy doing the same upon spotting them (where they flee -- natch -- at a panicked snail's pace), providing various comedic asides (my favorite being the echoey voice of a narrator), or breaking into song (they're so cute you don't even mind hearing the upbeat '90s ditty "Don't Worry, Be Happy" one more time), the slugs and their telescopic antenna eyes are so gosh darn cute and often hilarious that they help counter other deficiencies.

With all of that, some fun and rousingly adventurous moments, and enough fine comedy details and cultural references to warrant a second or third viewing to make sure you catch all of them, directors David Bowers and Sam Fell have crafted an offering that might not be the best animated film of 2006, but clearly doesn't deserve to suffer anything resembling its titular fate. Fairly entertaining but a bit lacking in terms of story and depending a bit too much on potty humor (although at least it thematically fits in) as well as various shots to the crotch, "Flushed Away" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 28, 2006 / Posted November 3, 2006

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