Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is a rat who lives a pampered lifestyle as the pet of a little girl in London's wealthy Kensington area, and today the girl's family are taking her away on holiday. She leaves a heap of food in his bowl, but once the door closes and he is all alone, he rejoices and lets himself out of his cage, then enjoys a party all by himself. The day of fun draws to an end, and he settles down to go to bed, but after he is asleep, he is awoken by a strange noise in the kitchen and nervously goes to investigate. After creeping around, he is shocked to see he has a visitor: an uncouth rat from the sewers, Sid (Shane Richie) has gatecrashed his paradise...
Flushed Away was the first Aardman Animation to be created not with the plasticine they were used to, but with computer graphics, apparently because this was too ambitious to manufacture in clay. The results won some sniffy reviews, but in spite of those who missed the charm of Wallace and Gromit's stop motion antics, it was unfair to have written it off quite so harshly, which might have been because it was felt that they were intruding in Pixar's domain to less emotionally satisfying effect. This was a co-production with Dreamworks, who had their own CGI animation division, but thankfully a horrible Transatlantic pudding was not the end product.
It easily could have been, but it was the starry cast which gave this away as a film with a generous budget, taking in international talent to what was in fact a very British work. If it had not been for the likes of Jackman and Jean Reno (showing he was a good sport by voicing a frog!) representing some place other than the UK, the casual moviegoer might have been mistaken for thinking Flushed Away had been made in Britain for British people exclusively what with its gags about royalty (and lots of them) and football (England in the final of the 2006 World Cup is a major plot point). It was good to see Aardman had not sold out, yet there was a sense of leaning a little too heavily on the patriotism.
But this was a comedy adventure at heart, with Roddy falling victim to his own scheme to oust Sid from the house and as the title suggests, getting flushed down the toilet he tried to persuade the intruder was a jacuzzi. There is an abundance of action setpieces all of which follow the Tom and Jerry rules of slapstick: that pain is funny when it's happening to someone else. Fortunately the light touch that directors David Bowers and Sam Fell brought to this ensured the humour was goodnatured and daft rather than all out cruel, so all those moments of pain are offset by a witty line or item of wackiness, useful when Roddy undergoes the amount of indignity he does and for so often.
Ian McKellen has a ball as the villain, a megalomaniac toad who has a plan that does not become clear till the closing stages, and all the voice artists pull their weight, from Kate Winslet as Rita to Andy Serkis's hapless henchman (one of many). Rita and Roddy have a Romancing the Stone style relationship in that it starts out antagonistic and winds up something more romantic, which you can see coming a mile away but is no less pleasing for all that. She is a boat captain in the sewers, which turn out to contain a whole rat city, and she has something the toad wants, but we don't discover why until later, leaving the thrown together couple to flee in yet more of those action sequences. Flushed Away isn't exhausting, and if the best laughs arrive nearer the start than at the end then at least there's the solution to Roddy's loneliness to brighten it up - and he saves the day, too. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams (and some singing slugs).