I always will have great respect for Aardman Animations. Since 1976, they've gone to create some of the most iconic animation not just in British animation history, but also animation history in general. From their "Wallace and Gromit" shorts to their feature films like "Chicken Run", they've gone down as being one of the best animation studios working today. Speaking of their feature films, there was a time when they had a deal with DreamWorks where they made their first three animated films in partnership with their studio. However, the deal ended quite suddenly in 2006 with the release of "Flushed Away" with both studios unwilling to work with each other anymore. Looking at this film, it's pretty easy to understand why. "Flushed Away" has a lot of Aardman's charm that was seen in "Chicken Run" and "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", even if it does feel like a somewhat misguided film.
When his owners go on holiday, a pet rat named Roddy (Hugh Jackman) takes comfort at having the whole house nestled in the Kensington Borough in London to himself. He has everything he desires, but one day a sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie) comes up the sink drains and tries to make Roddy's home his own home. Disgusted with Sid, Roddy tries to trick him into thinking the toilet is a jacuzzi to flush him back to the sewer, but Sid isn't fooled. Instead, Roddy gets flushed down into the sewer where he discovers an underground rat city modeled after London. Wanting to get back home, Roddy enlists the help of a rat named Rita (Kate Winslet) who pilots a makeshift boat called the Jammy Dogger to get him back to Kensington. However, Roddy and Rita become part of a conspiracy of the Toad (Ian McKellen) who sends his hench rats Whitey (Bill Nighy) and Spike (Andy Serkis) to get back a master cable that Rita stole from him. From there, the two try to figure out how to get Roddy home while avoiding the clutches of the manic and insane Toad.
While preparing this review, I decided to do some research on the film to figure out what went on behind the scenes and it became clear that this isn't a film that Aardman is comfortable talking about. While they haven't disowned the film, the company has revealed that the film's production was pretty miserable due to DreamWorks getting way too involved. They were trying to turn the film into another "Shrek" or "Madagascar" and that was something this film was never supposed to be. Even if I hadn't read that, I could tell watching the film that this was a movie that had executive meddling as it has a constant split between things that felt like Aardman and stuff that DreamWorks would do. I do like the main story though and I find it very clever. The idea of rats living below our feet and having their own utopia was ingenious and the film takes advantage of the world they live in with how the rats get along. I also admire the themes of the film where we see Roddy grow as a character and realize that we do need others to help us. I found that inspirational. It also helps that the film has some good jokes as well. One hilarious joke involved Rita's dad where Rita tells Roddy that he broke every bone in his body and a few minutes later, we actually see her father covered from head to toe in a cast. That was pretty clever. The whole scene where Roddy visits Rita's house was just simply fun and had some clever moments as the house was filled with Rita's many brothers and sisters get into crazy mischief and her grandmother mistaking and idolizing Roddy for Tom Jones. It reminded me of a lot of Aardman's previous work. However, this film has moments that feel they were added by DreamWorks. There's a couple of poop and fart jokes in the film and all of them are duds, there's a lot of pop songs thrown into the film that feels out of place, and there's even a dance party ending. All of it just felt so forced and added last minute which it probably might've been from what I read. As far as the animation goes, it's okay. The computer animation does look decent for 2007 standards and I like the look of the production design. Rita's house and the rat city, in particular, look exceptionally detailed as they're full of knick-knacks and bits of junk which gives the film such a beautiful atmosphere. Even the characters look nice as they have the look of "Wallace and Gromit" with their beady eyes and their plasticine like bodies. It's a well-detailed film and yet I do wish it was a stop motion film instead. The film was forced to be made as a CG film made at DreamWorks' headquarters in Glendale by Jeffery Katzenberg to compete with Pixar's upcoming film "Ratatouille", another film that had rats with it. I felt like I was watching a CG prototype for a stop motion film rather than a full-on computer-animated film and I missed the handmade feel of their other work. As far as the characters go, I like the majority of them. Roddy is a good protagonist and I do like the change he goes through at the end to become less spoiled and stuck up. Rita is also fun with Kate Winslet giving her a lot of spunky charm to make her unique as well as making her strong and self-defensive. Even the villains worked pretty well. The Toad was a fun antagonist and I did love his plan of wanting to rid the city of rats and repopulate with tadpoles. I do feel though his backstory was pretty unnecessary and felt he was a little too over the top at times. Whitey and Spike were hilarious though and had a lot of great jokes to carry the film. At one point Spike tells Whitey that danger is his middle name with Whitey replying "I thought it was Leslie." That got a laugh from me. Even the Toad's French cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno) and his accomplices got a laugh from me. I wasn't a huge fan of Sid though as he mostly came off an annoying jerk. I know that's the intent, but he should've been likable as initially planned which would've made Roddy's redemption at the end more worthy. I also could've done without the slugs. They mostly just annoyed me and felt tagged on as annoying comic relief by DreamWorks. They weren't as bad as future comic relief to come, but still, I could've done without them.
In the end, I do admire most of "Flushed Away" for what it was, but I do feel it could've been way better. The story has some clever moments and had some hilarious joke, the animation is okay but benefits from great production and character design, and the characters were mostly fun and worked well. This is a film I do think is good, but I think could've been better had DreamWorks kept their hands off it. While it isn't Aardman's best work as it one of their weaker films, it still is fun overall and I can say I did find some enjoyment in it. It's a clever film that I do admire, even if I will say it could've been better.