Grade: B+
Rated PG

It’s hard not to be bowled over by Flushed Away, an eccentric tale of a pampered upper-crust pet mouse who’s flushed down the toilet, only to discover a miniature city in the sewers underneath London. French Kung-fu frogs? Singing and screaming slugs? A mouse-granny obsessed with Tom Jones? A Bond-style villain who’s wanting to destroy an entire city? I’m not sure that an animated feature can have more organized chaos and still have such strong emotional content that you walk away from it feeling like you just watched a CGI and claymation Indiana Jones-style adventure.

This 2006 entry from Dreamworks (Shrek) and Aardman (Wallace & Gromit) is an unmistakable tip-of-the-hat to Romancing the Stone, and Flushed Away certainly has the same runaway-train pacing and playful male/female antagonism as that live-action adventure. Add similarities to The African Queen as well and you’ve got a cartoon journey that doesn’t drag, even during the occasional quiet moments.

Though it’s rated PG for “crude humor and some language,” nothing stands out as being really objectionable, and that includes what you’d expect to find floating in the sewers. Mostly, that’s because it all happens so quickly. The gags that do go the low-brow route are subtle or treated in an almost tasteful way. The grossest character is a sewer-rat named Sid (Shane Richie), who shoots up the drain from the underworld and flushes Roddy (Hugh Jackman) from his posh Kensington digs. Sid has the manners of a soccer hooligan, which is appropriate since World Cup Soccer is somehow involved in a destructive master plan by The Toad (Ian McKellen), a literal “underworld” boss.

The writers give us a script that appeals to adults as well as children not because it’s adult-rated, but because the writing is clever. There are dozens of allusions to other films and pop-culture icons, including the Royal Family, Tom Jones, Kermit the Frog, Finding Nemo, the Gorton’s fish captain, Lady and the Tramp, Batman, Austin Powers, and James Bond. Look in the backgrounds too, because this blend of ping-pong ball-eyed Aardman characters and Dreamworks CGI is loaded with esoteric humor in every frame. But the script is so cleverly written and David Bowers’ and Sam Fell’s direction so snappily paced that it all seems to fit. In fact, you can feel how much fun the voice actors had, and the result is a film that has enough energy to light up a theater.

There’s such good chemistry between upper-crust housemouse Roddy and crusty boat-driving river-rat Rita (Kate Winslet) that it’s a surprise to learn in an excellent but understated directors’ commentary that only the actors playing hench-rodents (Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis) had the pleasure of working together. Everyone else, including The Toad and his French cousin, Le Frog (Jean Reno), drew all of their energy from the script itself.

But it’s not all action or jokes. An emotional journey drives the film, with Roddy learning that “having it all” doesn’t mean much if you don’t have friends and family.

It’s also one of the best non-Disney animated features because it creates a lively and fun fully-imagined world. Pop culture products turn up in the most inventive ways. And as much as the rodents and amphibians in this film entertain, children will get a kick out of the singing slugs, featured as well on one of the bonus features. Flushed Away was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film BAFTA but lost to Happy Feet. It was in good company; the other losing nominee was Disney-Pixar’s Cars. So if in this time of Covid-19 isolation your family has binged their way through House of Mouse offerings and is looking for a change, Flushed Away is currently selling for $6.99 on Blu-ray at Best Buy. If it’s in stock it can even be picked up curbside at your local store with no human contact. Just you and the rats, slugs, and amphibians.

Entire family: Yes
Run time: 85 min., Color
Studio/Distributor: Dreamworks-Aardman/Universal
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B
Best Buy link
Rated PG for crude humor and some language

Language: 2/10—Mostly insults and name-calling, with a few lesser swearwords included

Sex: A few rats kiss and hold hands, bloomers and butt references, and one moment when Roddy has to reach into Rita’s back pocket and she says “Oh” 

Violence: Shades of Mr Freeze in Batman there are people who are frozen, others who get crotched when they fall, a fly that’s eaten (with a “Help Me” allusion to The Fly horror film) and Three Stooges-style “battles” between the good guys and bad

Adult situations: A frog drinks wine, but that’s about it

Takeaway: Flushed Away did well enough at the box office that you have to wonder why the studios weren’t tempted to collaborate on a sequel