When a movie is called “Flushed Away,” one braces for a little toilet humor. Fortunately, that’s exactly what we get — a little.
The almighty commode has but a cameo role in this infectiously good-natured familyadventure flick from DreamWorks and Aardman Animations. It’s classy and smart, and if you’re like me, the slap-your-knee-funny writing and warmly drawn characters will send your bathroom-based phobias hurtling down the drain.
Using image-generating software that mimics the texture and herky-jerky actions of Aardman’s claymation efforts, such as “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” directors David Bowers and Sam Fell tell the story of Roddy, a tux-attired pet mouse who lives in London’s swanky Kensington district.
When his owners are away, Roddy (suavely voiced by Hugh Jackman) slips out of his gilded cage and plays solitary golf rounds with his only “friends” — a lifeless entourage of Barbie and Ken dolls.
Much to his dismay, Roddy is evicted from his home by an interloping sewer rat (Shane Richie) who rudely flushes him down the toilet. Suddenly, Roddy the blue blood is among commoners — a rainbow coalition of lovable vermin who live in a stupendous, scaled-down simulacrum of London in the sewers below.
It makes for a ticklish send-up of London street culture, from the chips vendor who absent-mindedly fries up discarded goldfi sh to the stars-and-stripes-clad American tourist who gripes that “football is played with your hands!” Naturally, Big Ben is a salvaged alarm clock.
Determined to return to human civilization, Roddy enlists the services of a seafaring she-rodent named Rita (Kate Winslet), who owns her own boat and can navigate the sewer. Credit the screenwriters — five of them in all, including former “Frasier” scribes Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan — for a clever bit of gender reversal: Here, the woman is the roguish wayfarer-hero and the man’s the princess.
Not to worry — it isn’t long before Roddy assumes the role of alpha-mouse to protect Rita (and all of subterranean London) from an amphibious gangster named Toad (Ian McKellen, oozing evil refi nement) and his motley crew of rodent toughs (including a hulking, hairless lab mouse voiced by Bill Nighy).
And the goodies keep coming: ninja-acrobat frogs, sundry high-speed chase scenes and a chorus of singing slugs that crawl into the frame at the most comically opportune moments. Rarely has dry British humor and Hollywood-style hop been wedded so gracefully.
Naturally, Roddy is forced to weigh his privileged, solitary lifestyle against Rita’s rowdy, family-oriented life — a stock moral that would feel trite if it weren’t stated so creatively. Devotees of Wallace & Gromit might pooh-pooh the movie’s slicker CGI look, but why quibble over aesthetics? When the substance is there, no clay is OK.
‘Flushed Away’ Starring: Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis Rating: PG (crude humor and some language) Running time: 86 minutes Grade: A-