Dirs: David Bowers, Sam Fell. US. 2006. 86mins.
It may lack the handmade charm anddeeply English quirkiness of Oscar winner Wallace& Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, but Flushed Away, AardmanFeatures' first computer animated film and its third project with DreamWorksAnimation, is still lively enough to stand out from this year's crowd ofanimated offerings.
Combining Aardman's visual and comic style with DreamWorks' CGcraftsmanship, this latest collaboration between the UK and US companies bringsa funny script cleverly and colourfully to life. And it does so with acontemporary feel that might just give it a commercial edge over the partners'previous projects - last year's Wallace and 2000's almost equally acclaimed Chicken Run.
The newcollaboration premieres next week at the Hollywood and Tokyo film festivals andgoes on to open in North America (through Paramount, with a PG rating) onNovember 3 and in international territories (through UIP) between November andJanuary.
Domestically,though it will soon face competition from Warner's Happy Feet, it should, with its less pronouncedly British feel, becapable of beating Wallace'sdisappointing $56.1m total. Topping ChickenRun's $106.8m will be a bit more of a challenge.
Internationalexpectations will be higher (Chicken Rungot to $118m outside the US, and Wallacereached $136.3m) and they should be fulfilled. The UK - from which Wallace actually managed to gross morethan it did from North America - is likely to be the film's biggest internationalmarket.
The scriptis credited to UK TV and film veterans Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Still Crazy),US sitcom writers Chris Lloyd and Joe Keenan (Frasier), and Will Davies (JohnnyEnglish). Several other writers, though, are credited with providing'additional screenplay material.'
The busloadof scribes produces a pretty familiar-seeming story about RoddySt James (voiced by the X-Men films'Hugh Jackman), a pampered pet mouse (with a HughGrant persona) who thinks he's got it made in his posh London home. When Roddy gets flushed down the loo by an unwelcome intruder hediscovers a bustling and scary new world of sewer rats living beneath the citystreets.
He teams upwith Rita (Kate Winslet), a feisty young rat with amind of her own and a big family to take care of; but to get home he must helpRita escape from the clutches of the villainous Toad (Ian McKellen)and his henchmen Spike (Andy Serkis), Whitey (Bill Nighy) and Le Frog (French star Jean Reno).
Conceivedin the UK but produced entirely at DreamWorks' facilities in Los Angeles, withfirst-time feature directors David Bowers (a DreamWorks story artist) and SamFell (an Aardman veteran) in charge, the film does attimes feel like a watered down mid-Atlantic compromise.
Thecomputer animators give the characters the same stylised appearance as Aardman's familiar stop-motion models - with grinning,toothy mouths and bulging eyes - but at first at least it's hard not to missthe characters' solidity and distinctive movements.
What theuse of computers allows, though, is much more detailed and realisticenvironments (the prevalence of water in the story was apparently one of thereasons for taking the CG route). And it doesn't block the kind of visualinventiveness that has become one of the hallmarks of Aardman'swork. The film is amply stocked with amusing background action and incidentalcharacters, among them a group of slugs who punctuate the action with their owntakes on some well-known pop and rock songs.
The Aardman sense of humour is also preserved, withcartoon-inspired slapstick and a stream of subtle in-jokes about, among otherthings, the uselessness of the England football team and the national love-haterelationship with France.
Thoughthere are no real star turn voice performances, several members of the mostlyBritish cast do enjoyable work. McKellen goes to townas the pompous, rodent-hating Toad, Bill Nighy isfunny as a dim-witted tough guy and Reno is a good sport as the story's Frenchmercenary.
Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
Chris Lloyd & Joe Keenan
David A S James