Somerset Maugham, The Third Man
, Manchester United, Kate Beckinsale: Curse me for an Anglophile, but I can’t get enough of our neighbors across the pond. If you want to keep me quiet and content for a few hours, just put on a film with some rhyming cockney slang or high-court intrigue or a stammering Hugh Grant, and you’ve got me. Flushed Away
, the new feature from Aardman Animations (the animation studio that also produced Chicken Run
and the ingenious Wallace & Gromit
films) revels in its British-ness – it’s full of bone-dry wit, football references, and ribs on the French – and I was hooked from the first shot of Tower Bridge. The film’s hero, a domesticated rat named Roddy (Jackman), is the perfect comic embodiment of upper-class English propriety: John Cleese with floppy ears and buckteeth. Hailing from the tony London neighborhood of Kensington, Roddy is effete, pampered, and exceedingly well-dressed. But when a rough-and-tumble cockney sewer rat named Sid (Richie) comes crashing into Roddy’s posh, comfortable little world, our hero is sent kicking and screaming down the toilet bowl and into the harsh sewer world below, where rats, frogs, and slugs have re-created a tiny London beneath the real city’s surface and where an ill-prepared and ill-equipped Roddy must quickly learn to fend for himself. Failing miserably, Roddy seeks out the aid of spunky boat captain Rita (Winslet), who takes mercy on the poor house rat and agrees to help him get home. Pursuing them, however, is the sinister Toad (McKellen), who has plans to eradicate the underground city during halftime of the World Cup with the help of his henchmen, Spike and Whitey (Serkis and a spot-on Nighy), who sound as if they just stepped off the set of a Guy Ritchie picture. With his unnerving, wobbly eyes and stentorian oratory, Toad commands every scene he’s in like an overstuffed, overblown, and totally unhinged community-theatre Shakespeare villain (or a mad, bloated patrician from some rodent Gilbert and Sullivan operetta), keeping a smoking jacket and a collection of royal-family memorabilia around to temper his more sociopathic tendencies. Every time he appears onscreen the movie lights up, and McKellen voices him for all he’s worth, intoning to the gods like he can summon thunder and lightning with a word. Flushed Away
has a wicked, smart, and subtle sense of humor, and unlike so many kids movies these days, its characters – like the brilliant ennui-riddled French amphibious assassin Le Frog (Reno), who looks cosmically, infinitely, and existentially bothered whenever his killing duties pull him away from a cup of espresso – are living, breathing parts of a small ecosystem, rather than just caricatures created to spout out one-liners and sell Happy Meals.