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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Flushed Away

You’ll not only be will be flushed, you’ll be downright exhausted from all the laughing you’ll do if you see Flushed Away this week at the Essex Cinemas. Now everybody knows I am a member of Hughaholics Anonymous because of my addiction to that Aussie taste treat Hugh Jackman, but I inevitably fall off the wagon every time he is in a new movie, even when it is just his voice doing the work, and here is a perfect example of why I am so enamored. My dear husband Fred, ever the understanding enabler, even met me at the Essex Cinemas with one of those little battery powered hand-held fans because he knew I would be flushed, if not Flushed Away, with a few hot flashes of my own just hearing my yummy Hugh with that delicious accent of his, even if he is playing a rat.

That’s right. Hugh is a rat. Not a cute and cuddly little Disneyfied mouse in red pants and oversized yellow shoes, but a rat. Of course, being Hugh Jackman (The Fountain), he is not just any rat.
Hardly. No, he provides the perfect voice as an uptown aristocrat of a rat named Roddy, who wears a tuxedo and lives a pampered life of luxury as the pet of a little rich girl. His home is a magnificent two story cage, complete with a bath and two, count ‘em, two, exercise wheels. The only problem he might have to complain about is that, when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty, no matter how glamorous the digs are, the bottom line is that his home is a cage. Hardly dignified for an upper-crust kind of rat like himself.

When Roddy’s host family goes away on holiday they leave the rat on his own and in no time he
slips free of his cage to wander the house, playing the high society type he imagines himself being. He cruises the hallways in a battery-powered red convertible with his plastic friends Barbie and Skipper, schmoozes with the always manly G.I. Joe, and plays golf with an entire family of generic dolls as his audience. He may not have any other live friends like himself around, but he has lots of “things” to entertain him instead. That, of course, is not going to last for long.

After an intruder ~ a dreaded sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie; tv’s “EastEnders”) ~ finds his way in, Roddy’s plan to trick the rodent into going home goes awry and instead it is Roddy who ends up taking an unexpected plunge down the toilet drain and into the London sewer system. Ewwwww.

From here the story becomes as spectacularly imaginable as when Dorothy stepped out of her tornado-ravaged house and into the Land of Oz for the first time. What we find is not just a smelly, dark and gloomy maze of tunnels that Roddy first sees upon his landing. A few steps later and a peek behind some never-used floodgates, and he finds there exists a remarkable city of rats and other underground dwellers. This city is as complex and as beautiful as London, Venice or New York, but with much more color and pizzazz in its’ architecture and style. What is particularly funny about the city, however, is that, on closer look, you will see that it is made up entirely of recycled junk from the world above ~ broken microwave ovens, washing machines, and car parts for example. Brits might be reminded of “The Wombles”, a popular long-playing television series from the 1970s about a group of underground opossum-like animals that were into recycling long before the general public latched onto the idea. That is one fascinating part of the film that separates it from the pack of other animated movies released this past summer.
Flushed Away has a definite continental sensibility, balancing an array of jokes meant to entertain adults more than children on both sides of the Atlantic without being crass or dirty and yet still managing to give the kiddies more than enough to keep them giggling non-stop throughout. Flushed Away does this remarkably well, thanks to the clever writing of a stable of nine (!) writers, including alumni of tv’s “Frasier”, “Golden Girls”, “Desperate Housewives”, and the big screen’s Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The combined UK and US writing teams were able to create magic in the movie’s language and its’ sophisticated references that make up an encyclopedia of popular culture all on their own. There are so many obscure or obvious nods to British and American fads and favorites that it impossible to catch them all in one viewing. The jokes range from silly to sly and from ancient to timely (how many will “get” the 2 second reference to the 1960’s tv series “Batman” when the Caped Crusader isn’t even mentioned?). Flushed Away may not hit the mark with every single shot but the machine-gun style of tossing out a laugh-getter every few seconds more than does the job of hitting the funny bone a hundred times more than it misses.

As for Roddy, while he is astounded and impressed by his new surroundings, much like Oz’s Dorothy, he only wants to go home, and so he does what he can to find someone ~ anyone ~ who can help him find his way back up to the surface and his house in Kensington. The only problem is that nobody in this world wants anything to do with the human world, where rats are scorned and killed.

Obviously things get complicated from this point, and through a series of sight gags, missteps, and
slapstick reminiscent of classic Tex Avery cartoons of the 1940s Roddy gets himself stuck in the middle of a mess with the amphibian-run crime mob, headed up by The Toad (Ian McKellan; X-Men: The Last Stand) and his goons Whitey (Bill Nighy; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest), an enormous albino rat, and Spike (Andy Serkis; The Prestige), the most abused and dim-witted rodent in the history of the movies. This bunch is after the comely young Rita (Kate Winslet; Little Children), and before you know it, Roddy and Rita have become a reluctant couple as they flee the bad guys on Rita’s rickety boat (think of the chemistry between Bogie and Hepburn in The African Queen). Naturally any two characters who argue and snipe back and forth the way they do are destined for true love, of course, but the journey is where the fun lies, and this trip is… well, it’s downright trippy!

Eventually The Toad brings in his French cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno; Flyboys), who enlists a regiment of other frogs to join him in capturing Rita because, unbeknownst to her, a cable she is wearing as a belt is a key element in a diabolical plan The Toad has planned, and he must have it
back. So, for no apparent reason, aristocratic Roddy finds himself under attack by a pack of frogs and he is forced to become a tiny tuxedoed James Bond as he and Rita work together to dispatch their would-be captors and eventually find their way back to Kensington. Look for some quick-witted pokes at the French, including my personal fave, when Le Frog, to line up his troop for introductions, orders them to “Assume the position!” and they immediately throw their arms in the air and in unison chime “We surrender!”

By movie’s end it is apparent to Roddy that there is much more to life than the comforts of his cage and the security of his life in London’s plush Kensington district. For the first time in his furry life he has discovered love and family, and the obvious message is that his home is with the ones he loves more than the things he loves. Okay, so it is simple message to be sure, but one that is delivered here in a loving way and not forced on us with the subtlety of a brick to the head. Instead, we are treated to a “Greek chorus” of slugs throughout the movie that serenade us with the
pertinent lessons in song here and there, and bring us the glorious finale with a beautiful 1930s Busby Berkley-type Broadway number along with Roddy in full voice. Yes. I said “slugs.” And there are singing maggots as well. Just so you are forewarned. If Flushed Away does one other thing besides make you laugh yourself silly, it will probably make you rethink putting out that Spectracide Snail & Slug Killer Bait next Spring. Well, probably not. If you’re like me, you’ll still do it, but now you’ll have one more thing to feel guilty about.

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