Henchrats Spike (voiced by Andy Serkis, pointing) and Whitey (voiced by Bill Nighy, second from left), flanked by Ladykiller, left, and Thimblenose Ted, right, are in hot pursuit of Roddy and Rita in the computer-animated comedy "Flushed Away."
Hapless rat gives hyper tour of London
Clay animation meets computerization in a rollicking tale of a rat flushed down the loo
Here's the sort of thing you don't get to write every day: Hugh Jackman portrays an animated rodent in a movie, and I kept thinking of it as the Hugh Grant role.
Opens in theaters Friday
It doesn't help that the rodent -- a pampered pet in London's tony Kensington suburb -- is named Roddy St. James. One day, he's somewhat deliberately flushed down the loo and winds up in an elaborate sewer-city recreation of a miniature London, peopled -- if that's the word -- by rats and toads and slugs of varying caste.
Roddy is out of his element. Seems his best chance of escaping is with self-sufficient lady rat Rita, who runs a kind of tugboat, voiced by Kate Winslet with a working-class burr. Blocking his way is a King Toad, voiced with Master Thespian grandiloquence by Sir Ian McKellen, and "henchrats" Spike and Whitey, voiced by Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy as if they'd fancied every Benny Hill episode ever filmed.
It's all terribly British, sometimes overbearingly so, which means it's both restrained and over the top and borders on caricature. Imagine that in an animated film!
That's pretty much it for plot. As in all animated films, it's the details and attitude that count. The underground world of the rats is fantastically imagined, with little art-director jokes popping out of every corner and a certain continuity of physics that makes it all seem reasonable. The action is furious and hyper-kinetic, which helps ground the choreography. But the movie never slows down for a moment, and roller-coaster fatigue sets in. Eat a lot of sugar and caffeine before you go.
A highlight is the singing slugs, a kind of Greek chorus that comments on the ongoing frenzies by bursting into pop songs and squeaky sound effects. They're adorable.
The fascinating bit is in the details of the animation. "Flushed Away" is the first collaboration between Dreamworks' computer animation studios and the Aardman clay-animation studios -- the "Wallace and Gromit" chaps, whose characters always appear to be saying Sheesh! -- and the movie, although completely generated out of pixels, is supposed to look as if it's animated out of Plasticine. And it does. The texturing of the various surfaces is astounding.
It's probably not a good sign that one's mind wanders from the foreground action to the computer-generated textures of the background, but there you go. Must be a reason roller-coaster rides don't go on for 90 minutes.