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FLUSHED AWAY (article first published : 2007-01-21)

Success seemed a cert when the Dreamworks studio, which gave us the Shrek hits, teamed up with the cheeky British talents behind Aardman, the company that served up such wit and wonder in the clay-animated, Oscar-nominated Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

No surprise, then, that Flushed Away, a computer-animated treat in the style of clay animation, is a constant rollercoaster of fun while also being stylish and inventive.

This is family fare that can boast strong animation and characterisation, and such an abundance of clever humour - much of it whizzing by so fast, or happening in the detailed background action - that one is tempted to see it at least one more time to try to catch it all.

The story focuses on a pampered pet mouse, Roddy St James (the voice of Hugh Jackman), who lives in a gilded mansion of a cage in a super-posh home in London's elite Kensington area. Left alone while his owners go on holiday, Roddy has a ball playing with toys in the house, eventually donning a tuxedo (from a Ken doll, it would seem) to take in a DVD, with a Barbie in the passenger seat of the red toy car he parks in front of his owner's plasma TV.

However, just when all seems hunky dory, Roddy bumps into a stranger on his turf - a dirty, lardy sewer rat (Shane Richie), who flushes the house mouse down the toilet, where he splashes into a mini metropolis on the edge of the sewers.

It's a place which, fashioned to resemble London, using trash and debris, is populated by mice, rats and assorted bugs and slugs, the latter of which are alone worth the price of your cinema ticket. They scream and "dash" away from Roddy in slo-motion, when they aren't breaking into song, harmonising through Mr Lonely, Don't Worry, Be Happy and even Proud Mary.

The story, from this point, revolves around Roddy befriending a female sailor rat, Rita (Kate Winslet), and becoming involved, with her, in a battle for a fake ruby wanted by a tyrannical toad (Ian McKellen) and his sidekicks, voiced by Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy. Eventually, this animosity between the groups leads to a battle to save the sewer metropolis from a tidal wave of danger.

The movie is laden with surprises that include deft throwaway gags and swift homage to just about everything from Batman and Finding Nemo to The Fly, Riverdance and even Mary Poppins ("Feed the bugs, tuppence a bag," pleads a rodent selling food).

We even get a peg-legged (make that pencil-legged) pirate rodent, who runs a burger stand and has a loose-tongued goldfish under his arm, instead of a parrot on his shoulder. Big laugh. And, thrown in for good measure, we get a World Cup soccer final - England versus Germany - which becomes crucial to the plot, and a hilarious sequence involving a cellphone and a Marcel Marceau impersonator.

Treat the kids and you'll also be treating yourself with this one. Sheer delight. (8/10) Billy Suter




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