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Flushed Away is the new film from the Chicken Run/Wallace & Gromit geniuses over at Aardman. So where's the claymation? Missing from the film are their usual characters made of mud, but present is every bit of the creativity and cuteness we've grown to expect from Aardman. By using computers instead of stop-motion models, bringing the stuff inside their heads to life has just gotten a lot easier.
That doesn't mean they've abandoned their trademark Aardman look. Sure, the movie is computer animated, but what DreamWorks has done for them is use computers to create the animated equivalent of claymation figures. If you watch closely, you might even spot a simulated thumbprint or two in the carefully rendered faux clay.
Look, I love stop-motion animation. I love the style, feel, and weight of claymation figures. It's a special art form all its own. But there's no denying that it has its limitations. There are simply some things you can't do. By abandoning stop-motion for this one, it's like someone took the shackles off the Aardman crew. All the wacky gadgets and outlandish visuals of their previous films have been amped up to completely new levels for Flushed Away, and the result is their most entertaining and lovable film to date.
Flushed Away is the story of Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a rat raised in an uptown penthouse as a pampered house pet. He's accidentally flushed down the toilet and ends up in the rat-topian sewers of London, where he discovers a whole new world of rat civilization and superbly hilarious screaming, singing, surfing slugs. The slugs become a running gag throughout the movie. They're the first thing Roddy encounters once he's dropped through the drain, and they follow him through the entire film as sort of a whimsical Greek chorus. They're incredibly cute, and even though they're only background they run away with the film.
It's not long before Roddy runs into Rita (voiced by Kate Winslet), a born and bred sewer rat (with an Indiana Jones flair for adventure) on the bad side of the town's local Toad (voided by Ian McKellen) mafia boss. Roddy wants to get back home to his posh and lonely Penthouse above, and Rita is his ticket to get there. To make it, they'll have to get past Toad's lackeys: a philosophical pair of buddy-rats, and a group of hilarious Frenchy Frog henchmen and their mime, led by the great Le Frog (voiced by Jean Reno).
As with Aardman's previous movies it’s the film's ancillary characters that sell it. Roddy and Rita are a nice center for the story but the stuff going on around the fringes, like Le Frog and the slugs, is what brings the comedy. The voice cast is at times brilliant. Jackman and Winslet are merely alright as Roddy and Rita, but people like Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, and Jean Reno really kill as they skip around the script with all the best comedic bits. They'll have you in stitches.
There's just no way around it. Flushed Away is a perfect kind of cute. Aardman's imagination has been set free from the constraints of stop-motion and they've taken full advantage of the latitude this allows them. I doubt they'll ever completely abandon claymation animation (nor should they), but when they need get a few things out of their system that stop-motion can't handle, this is the way to do it. Flushed Away is a fun little family film and Aardman's best work so far.