Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rats Packed

Took the kids to see a sneak preview of Flushed Away Saturday morning. For those whose lives do not hinge on the latest animated masterpiece that hits the big screen, this is the end product of a collaboration between Dreamworks (the folks who brought us Shrek) and Aardman animation (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run). Aardman specializes in stop-motion animation, or claymation, while Dreamworks' animation division makes its living with Computer-Generated animation (aka CGI).

This movie looks and feels like a traditional claymation film. In fact, it's not. It's entirely CGI, using a technique first developed by Aardman to do some of the trickier bits of Curse of the Were-Rabbit--specifically, the bunnies in the bunnvac, which float around in mid-air inside the transparent canister. The decision to use the CGI technique in this instance involves the large amount of water needed in the movie. It's very hard to imitate water in claymation.

So there's an awful lot of Aardman in this film. One of its writers is listed as Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman, and one of its directors was the senior storyboard artist of Curse of the Were-Rabbit. But what it doesn't have is Nick Park, who is the creative genius of Aardman, and it shows.

Our two protagonists are Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a kept rat used to a life of luxury in a Kensington townhouse (One of the most affluent parts of London), and Rita (Kate Winslet), a rough-and-ready adventurer with grand schemes. Anyone who has seen the trailer for this film knows the setup: Posh rat gets flushed into the sewers, and finds himself in a subterranean mini-London, where all the rats have made clever contraptions that ape the human-sized London abovegrounds. Rita is the only rat who has ever successfully navigated upriver (upsewer?), and so Roddy tries to enlist her help in getting him back to his home.

The antagonist is Toad (Ian McKellen; sounding indistingishable from Ralph Fiennes' Victor Quartermain from Were-Rabbit), and his cadre of bumbling henchmen, most notably the pinched little Spike (Andy Serkis, aka Gollum), and the hulking, existentialist Whitey (Bill Nighy--Davey Jones from Pirtes of the Caribbean 2). And the plot involves a stolen ruby, a special power cable, an amphibian's hatred of all things rotent, and the fact that everyone in England's going to pee at halftime at during the finals of the World Cup. No, really.

I've tried writing about this movie in several different ways, and the bottom line is it's not bad. Nor is it good. What we have is a bunch of fantastic actors, a cadre of incrediblly talented animators, and a nothing of a script. It's a boy-meets-girl-fish-out-of-water-money-isn't-everything-let's-save-the-day-and-fall-in-love mishmash. There's lot's of clever dialogue, plenty of interesting visuals, extremely cute slugs (never thought I'd ever write those words in that order in my life), and a ton of inside jokes*, but it all just sort of sits there. There's no chemistry between Rita and Roddy, no matter how many times they get thrown together.** It's like what Gertrude Stein said about Cleveland: there's no 'there' there.

So if you're in the mood for some hilarious bits of dialogue, some hilarious sight gags, some fun action, and no real story, go see it. If I were you, though, I'd wait until it hits DVD.

*see the Hugh Jackman rat contemplate wearing a Wolverine X-man costume! Look at the toy bunnnies that are straight from Curse of the Were-Rabbit! See the Alex the Lion toy from Madagascar! And many more! And that's the problem: Most of the fun in this film involves the peripherals. It's a donut movie. The outside stuff is great, but in the center, there's nothing.

**and if you think that's asking a lot from an animated movie, I'd offer this in response: Lightning McQueen and Sally Carerra in Cars, Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo, Shrek and Donkey in Shrek, Woody and Buzz in Toy Story...


Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

I wondered how the Aardman/ Dreamworks collab would work out. I think I'll enjoy this one in the comfort of my family room. I have to be picky about what I spend my money and panic-inducing theatre time on.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit was friggin brilliant...

(I'm going to review Over the Hedge later this week.)

9:35 AM  
Blogger Pablo said...

Never heard of this until now. I don't have kids but I still watch some of these movies.

10:19 AM  
Blogger GC (God's Child) said...

why is there a love-story plot in a movie for kids? Not that love is a bad thing but is it necessary so much of the time?

12:13 PM  
Blogger Guy Wonders said...

Great review, as usual - you make a good point about chemistry between characters, even in an animated film directed toward kids. Without the chemistry, you have the cinematic equivalent of fast food (briefly interesting and quickly forgotten). . . .

1:35 PM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

heidi: look forward to it. we saw OTH this summer. it was a great drive-in flick. Best line/callback: 'but I like the cookie...'

pablo: fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you're young at heart...

gc: good question. probably because the filmmakers are trying to make at least part of the film palatable to the parental units. and, since love is a part of life, it's not a bad thing to have our kids exposed to it, no?

guy: good analogy. this one needed a little more salt...


5:13 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Thanks for the review. Do you ever read the BBC's film reviews? I used to browse through the bad American romantic comedy sections just to laugh out loud at their merciless critiques.

11:45 PM  
Blogger cadbury_vw said...

thank-you for the review

as a person whose life does revolve around such movies... (well, not quite as much now...)

4:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home