Friday, February 23, 2007

Flushed Away (2006)

Flushed Away (David Bowers & Sam Fell, 2006)

Flushed Away is a depressing departure for Aardman. After making considerable money and critical respect for their Wallace & Gromit short films, Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Chicken Run (2000), the pioneering studio for claymation decided to join the bandwagon and completely digitize their third feature film. My problem with Flushed Away is not merely its being a CGI-animated flick, but that it's as generic as its other computerized cousins; this one completely indistinguishable from the rest. It's their most Hollywood effort yet. Its candy colored exteriors, its computerized thumb prints, its distinctly imperfect movements to copycat claymation cannot possibly take away the moneymaking rot that drives the film's spirit.

From its title, one can accurately guess that the film's humor will primarily be comprised of bathroom humor. True enough, potty-jokes abound; the amusingly dry British humor of Aardman's previous features is exchanged for the more commercial, more middlebrow, America-friendly giggle-givers. The Dreamworks complex of visual gags (it seems that pop culture references and real modern city life in fantasy worlds ala Shrek (2001) and Shark Tale (2004)) make its way into the feature; most of it justifiably amusing --- a mini-version of London comprised of rats, frogs, and roaches thriving underneath the sewers of the real city; sewer slugs convene to become combos that provide musical tickles (though after the initial joke, the repetition gets tiring).

My adverse reaction against the film is primarily due to disappointment. The film isn't completely a waste of time. Much of the voice acting is delightful. Ian McKellen's The Toad resembles an overshadowed has-been, a gigglish mix of British snob, malevolent overlord, and overacting schemer. His plan of drowning the rat-metropolis by the time those soccer-loving Brits above take a pee-breat during half-time is probably the funniest joke of the bunch. His ragtag team of French ninja frogs resemble the sort of zaniness and cultural insensitivity this Aardman product sorely needs.

But still I'm distracted by the film's poser attitude. The reason for opting to go the CGI way was because there's a difficulty in claymating water effects. It's probably a valid technical point, but to completely computerize everything, and then use computer effects to make it feel like claymation is downright pretentious. I do notice a lot of the claymation imperfections which made all the Wallace & Gromit delightfully natural in the film. Mixed with the seamless digital animation at work, the conscious downgrading feels ungainly and distracting. Moreover, the character designs (which is in line with Aardman's usual character designs), just look ugly digitized.

Dreamworks and Aardman divorced a while back, and I'm seriously hoping that the lack of Hollywood pressure would get Aardman back on its creative feet. In an industry that's being populated by studios who go the easy way by animating digitally, studios like Aardman, Studio Ghibli, and other backlot corporations who champion traditional animation should be given more attention than they are having now. It's quite unfortunately that at times, one of these championing studios would stumble and produce features like this flick that simply deserves to be flushed away.

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