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Flushed Away

(2006) *** Pg
86 min. DreamWorks Pictures. Directors: Sam Fell, David Bowers (III). Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Andy Serkis, Shane Richie, Bill Nighy.

If you want to be bowled over with comedy, don't throw your money down the drain. See Flushed's well-worth the plunge! Plus there's no actual poo in it. (If that's not good enough for an advertising blurb, what is?) In the glut of CGI-animated pictures these days, the odd truly clever one stands out. Thanks to the collaboration of American DreamWorks Animation and British Aardman Animations, Flushed Away proves to be a worthwhile outing for the whole family.

Aardman has, to date, made exclusively Claymation pictures (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit), but translating Nick Park's design style into CGI succeeds. Never mind that the mice look nothing like mice (what, Mickey did?). The detailed production design makes wonderlands of a deserted, upscale Kensington flat and a makeshift Little London of the sewers. In these play areas, a swift stream babbles with jokes and action.

Just as DreamWorks and Aardman share production duties, Brit screenwriters Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais and American screenwriters Chris Lloyd & Joe Keenan (Frasier) and Will Davies share script duties (Tracey Ullman gets a "creative consultant" credit). The result is an amped-up version of Aardman's usual charming wit, a tactic that delivers quantity and quality. Refreshingly absent of obvious lessons—other than it's better not to be alone—Flushed Away is pure romp, more concerned with character, well-timed sight and sound gags, and witty banter than it is with smooth plotting.

Hugh Jackman voices Roddy, a clumsy mouse who takes an unscheduled trip into a sewer world that recreates London in refuse. Roddy discovers rodent brethren, as well as singing slugs (a cutesy running gag lifted from Babe's singing mice) and frog and rat gangsters. Ian McKellen plays the genocidal toad who wants to flush away the rat population (Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, and Jean Reno are among the hench-beasties). Kate Winslet voices Roddy's spunky match, a scavenger with a scow dubbed the Jammy Dodger.

The repetitive plot machinations labor to propel the running time to 86 minutes (with slow-rolling credits), but the gags, the voice talent, and a versatile score by Harry Gregson-Williams keep spirits up. Besides, here's the only one of Hugh Jackman's six films this year to feature the star crooning "She's a Lady." Despite the title, Flushed Away is one of the few animated films of 2006 that doesn't stink.

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