Aardman has applied the sweetly demented sensibility of the “Wallace and Gromit” claymation films to their first CGI film and it is an irresistible treasure. It has their trademark intricacy of design, thrilling, hair’s-breadth-timing of action sequences, mastery of physical properties and spaces, delightful characters, and fresh and funny moments from the most sophisticated (a cockroach reading Kafka) to the least (a floating brown blob in the sewer turns out, whew, to be a candy bar), to those that transcend all categories (singing slugs, trust me on this one). There are movie references from Lady and the Tramp to Terminator 2 and a merry family meal that could have been thought up by Dickens. And of course everything revolves around the World Cup.
Roddy St. James (voice of Hugh Jackman) is a pampered pet rat who lives in the posh Kensington Gardens section of London. He has everything, thanks to his doting owners. When they go out of town, he enjoys himself, racing around in his little red convertible, playing volleyball with the fashion dolls and action figures, trying out his various outfits, from the tux with the gold cufflinks to the cruise wear and the spangly late-Elvis jumpsuit.
But then a sewer rat named Syd shoots up out of the sink and starts to mess up everything — literally and metaphorically. Roddy tries to lure him into a “jacuzzi” (the toilet), but ends up getting flushed away himself, and ends up in a swarming metropolis in the swere system underneath London.
It says a great deal about the story and characters that they are able to hold the audience’s attention because the “city” is the most endlessly beguiling and clever since the metropolises of Monsters Inc. and Robots. Every detail of every street corner is made-for-the-DVD-pause-button meticulous, imaginative, and witty.
But Roddy is too determined to get back home to pay much attention, so soon he is caught between Rita (voice of Kate Winslet), the sea captain (think Han Solo in trousers made from the Union Jack) and kingpin Toad (Ian McKellan), whose neck bulges out with emotion at awkward moments.
Toad, of course, has henchmen, the dim little guy and the dimmer big guy. And then he brings in reinforcements, his French cousin (of course), Le Frog (voice of Jean Reno). He has his own back-ups, the kind of frogs who break for five-hour dinners, whose battle cry is “We surrender!” and who include, of course, a mime.
The characters are wonderfully appealing and the story is exciting, warm-hearted, and inspiring. The unabashed British perspective (with some tweaks of the Americans as well as the French) enhances its fresh perspective. And those slugs sure can sing.
Parents should know that there are some scenes of peril and confrontation that may be too intense for younger children, even though no one gets hurt. Parents of younger children will want to remind them not to flush things down the toilet. The movie includes some brief crude jokes (nutcracker as a threatened torture device, brief bare tush) and, of course, some potty humor. There is also some mild British-centric ethnic humor, with gentle ribbing of the French and Americans. Roddy does not seem to care much about the rights or feelings of the family that cares for him. A strength of the movie is the strong, brave, female character.
Families who see this movie should talk about what Rita had that that Roddy admired and envied. Why?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures. Aardman’s website has ecards and a showreel featuring their delightful commercials.