FLUSHED AWAY is the rude title of a sometimes rude film, but one that unswervingly hews to an ebullient sense of whimsy. Whimsy is its birthright, this being first-ever CGI Aardman effort, they of Wallace and Grommit fame. Fear not, it uses special software to deliberately include the sorts of imperfections that are inherent in bringing clay to life by hand and that are an equally inherent part of the Aardman brand of charm. It may lack Nick Park as one of its writers, but it has more than just some quick shots of his bunnies from “THE CURSE OF THE WEREREABBIT, it also has his sensibility that is at once sweet and sly.
It’s is the classic fish out of water story, or rather, posh rat discovering his roots. That would be Roddy St James (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a pampered pet who lives in the lap of London luxury only to find himself, ahem, rudely, displaced by a sewer rat who flushes him back to his cultural heritage. In the strange simulacrum of London there in the sewers, he barely has time to get oriented to the ersatz Picadilly Circus before he gets caught up in nasty struggle between plucky Rita (Kate Winslet), a toothsome she-rat with an adventurous taste in accessories, and an evil toad (Ian McKellen), whose adventurous nature includes worshipping the royal family and plotting to wipe out the rat population.
The action whooshes along barely giving Roddy a chance to catch his breath before he either finds or creates the next mishap. There are inept thugs, a fake ruby, races through sewer lines that are marvels of invention, an outsize family that is far more stable that their precariously rocking house, and a smackdown of the French in the person of LeFrog (Jean Reno with a most apt, world-weary vocalization) that is one of the high points of a film that already scales the empyrean realms of humor. The script has him and his hench-frogs embody, literally, every Gallic cliché and then subvert them by simultaneously embracing and making sport of them. It all culminates in an elaborate and brilliant visual set piece involving a cell phone and a mime named Marcel. Of course.
Popping up throughout is a piquant group of slugs who act as surreal grace notes by way of impromptu doo-wop, sound effects, or oddly evocative emotional outbursts that are as much commentary on the action as a glimpse into what seems to be their complex inner lives. At least complex for an invertebrate.
All that being said, what is best in FLUSHED AWAY is its unexpectedly convincing blend of a genuine emotional life for the main characters along with a razor-sharp sense of silliness. The jokes come thick and fast and mostly on target. Even the ones that miss don’t do so by much, executed as they are with a raucous ingenuity and a fearless use of puns. This may be the best 86 minutes anyone has ever spent in a sewer.