A pet rat gets flushed down the toilet and finds himself in an underground rat-run city.
David Bowers & Sam Fell, 2006
When pet rat Roddy (Hugh Jackman) is left alone in his mansion home when his humans go on holiday, he throws himself a party, dressing up in the clothes from his owner’s toys. The toys themselves are his only company, however…that is, until loud-mouthed sewer-dwelling rat Sid (Shane Richie) finds his way into the house. The place is a palace to slobby Sid, so Sid turns the tables on Roddy and, er, flushes him away. Roddy discovers that there’s an entire London underground that is populated by rats, frogs, and singing slugs. Life underground is a little rougher than he’s used to, and when he meets pirate Rita (Kate Winslet), he becomes entangled in a (confusing) plot hatched by the villainous Toad (Ian McKellen) to destroy the rats for good. Or something? I wasn’t really clear on that, since I was working when I watched this movie.
So I saw this one at work, which may make it slightly unfair to review, but I did see it from beginning to end with only a couple of brief distractions. Those couple of brief distractions seem to have happened at the worst times, though, because I came back somewhere towards the end and suddenly had absolutely NO idea what was going on. And this, I think, belies the movie’s biggest problem. The writing is structurally flawed, and this was an issue that ran through the whole thing. We spend very little time in Roddy’s house before Sid, who is barely a character despite featuring heavily in the promo material, shows up for a few minutes, and then we’re somewhere else entirely with a whole new batch of characters to meet. The central conflict seems to be getting Roddy back home, but that is then solved well before the end of the film, when the film switches gear and The Toad finally becomes plot-relevant rather than just an entertaining nuisance. The majority of the characters are one-dimensional, something that is particularly egregious in Rita’s case. I feel like the SEVEN (!!) male writers had never had more than a passing conversation with a woman, and were just like “This is what they do, right?” Her motivations, behaviours, and general incomprehensible rudeness make no sense whatsoever. There’s a sequence when she and Roddy first meet where she actively tries to get him killed several times, which is frankly pretty appalling. The romance between them never convinces – even though they’re CGI animated rats, they have no chemistry at all.
The thing about Flushed Away is that, in spite of all the plotting, characterisation, and pacing problems, I could have watched it for hours. The Aardman animation is CGI, but made to look like their stop-motion, and it has phenomenal attention to detail. The whole underground rat world is fantastically rendered. There are all these delightful little notes, like the design of Rita’s ship The Jammy Dodger, with its tennis ball floaters, rubber duck lifeboat, and taped-up walls. I also really loved the singing slugs, which are just weird enough to work, unlike the annoying comedy henchmen, who are never really threatening enough. Hugh Jackman does a decent job with Roddy, making him just likeable enough to offset the general smarm of the character and effectively voicing hopeless desperation. I like Kate Winslet, but Rita is an incredibly one-note character, who irritated me incredibly frequently. Ian McKellen and Jean Reno have the best roles as the Toad and his hired muscle Le Frog (culturally insensitive towards the French, btw), who hops all over the toad in a very entertaining sequence. The kids were definitely amused the whole time, though when I did come back and ask what had happened even they couldn’t really tell me, so I don’t think the plot worked for them either. It’s kind of a muddled mess, but it’s an adorable muddled mess.
Flushed Away on IMDb