There have been a number of fine computer-animated movies this year already, and Flushed Away (DreamWorks) is one of the best of the lot.
The film is a joint venture between DreamWorks Animation, which also made Shrek, and Peter Lord and David Sproxton of Aardman Animation, the creators of Wallace & Gromit, and has a visual style that blends the digital crispness of the former with the playful, old-school, stop-motion look of the latter.
Frolicsome and family friendly, the fable centers on Roddy St. James (voiced by Hugh Jackman), an urbane pet mouse living "la dolce vita" in London's posh Kensington district. With his owners away, Roddy's cushy, if lonely, life is turned topsy-turvy when sewer rat Sid (Shane Richie) shows up uninvited. Rod tries to ditch the vulgar vermin by tricking Sid into thinking the toilet is a Jacuzzi, but Sid turns the tables and it's Roddy who gets flushed.
Roddy lands in the bustling underground world of London's sewer system, where a mini-metropolis of discarded junk mirrors the city above, complete with its own Big Ben, Tower Bridge and Piccadilly Circus.
There, he teams with spunky rat Rita (Kate Winslet) to foil the doomsday plot of the villainously amphibious Toad (Ian McKellen), who wants to exterminate the sewers' rodent population. (His animus stems back to the trauma of being supplanted by a mouse as the prize pet of a then-young Prince Charles.)
Colorful voice work is also provided by Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy as Toad's stooges, Spike and Whitey. But it's Jean Reno as Le Frog — a French tongue-for-hire — who, along with his hilarious hench-frogs, will leave you croaking with laughter.
The action scenes are terrific, especially the chase sequences in which Roddy and Rita are pursued through the underground waterways while aboard Rita's clunky steamer, the Jolly Dodger. (Shades of The African Queen?)
Co-directors David Bowers and Sam Fell combine this zippy animation with a simple but smartly entertaining script to delightful effect, while imparting a warm message that, without friends and family, life, no matter how luxurious, is ultimately empty.
Unlike many recent computer-animated films, this one has pop-culture references that are used sparingly, though the soundtrack crams in a few too many pop hits (mostly sung on camera by a slimy Greek chorus of slugs).
There's some lightly crude slapstick — many of the male mice land in, how shall we say, uncomfortable positions — and a minor plot point involving Roddy giving Rita a piece of jewelry belonging to his owner (which, in the context of the story, doesn't really come across as stealing), but overall the movie is obviously suitable for all but the youngest children.
And while the fast-paced zaniness will keep the youngsters happy, parents will get a kick out of its more subtle jokes, such as a clever literary sight gag involving a cockroach reading a copy of Kafka's Metamorphosis, in which a man wakes to find he's changed into a bug.
Whatever your age, if you're looking for good-natured fun, you won't be flushing your money away.
The film contains some mildly rude humor and language and cartoon action violence. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.