Friday, August 30, 2013

Box Office Purgatory: Episode 2: "Flushed Away"

"Makes me laugh every time that one."

Claymation Away

      Flushed Away is Aardman Animation's third film, after Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit and is their first Computer-Animated film. It was released on November 3, 2006 and is one of Dreamworks Animations many films. Directed by David Bowers (Astro Boy) and Sam Fell (ParaNorman, which you all should have seen by now) and was written by Dick Clement (The Bank Job), Ian La Francis (Goal!), Christopher Lloyd (No, not that one, this Chris writes for Modern Family), Joe Keenan (Frasier) and William Davies (How to Train Your Dragon). The film follows Roddy (Hugh Jackman), a posh house pet rat to a rich girl, who finds himself flushed down a toilet by Sid (Shane Richie). In the sewer, he teams up with boat captain Rita (Kate Winslet), who agrees to take him back to the surface. Along the way, however, they are hunted by the villainous Toad (Ian McKellen) and his henchmen Le Frog (Jean Reno), Whitey (Bill Nighy) and Spike (Andy Serkis). 

The Last and Least

      How big a failure was Flushed Away? Well, the film grossed $178 million on a $149 million dollar budget. But after we calculate for loss, the film only made about $59 million dollars. It was Dreamworks Animations less successful film until this year, when Turbo lost around $60 million. Critic wise, it was more of a success, getting a 72% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 74 on Metacritic, with the consensus being that the film was "Clever and appealing". However, nowadays, it is one of Dreamworks less remembered films and whenever I remind people of the film, nobody really seems to remember liking it. Also, due to creative difficulties, (Aardman has said they made the film CG because of bad claymated water effects, but rumor has it that that Dreamworks felt that CG was more profitable than Claymation), this was Aardman's last film working with Dreamworks and Aardman's last feature film until Arthur Christmas 5 years later.

No one should ever be that excited
about a toilet.
Aardman and Robin

      I don't know if I've made this clear enough here on Cinema Won. I love Aardman studios. Like, a lot. I mean, how can you hate the studio that brings you Wallace and Gromit? Wallace and Gromit are the greatest things ever! There is, however, something to be said about Flushed Away. It is a good movie. But it is also Aardman's weakest film. And it also did poor enough at the box office to end up on this show. Flushed Away is the simple case of a movie that just didn't go far enough. The whole movie is good, but not great. The cast is good. Jackman and Winslet have a good chemistry and work well as main characters. The problem is, while the characters are fine, they are pretty bland. Roddy alternates between charming and competent and annoying and idiotic whenever the movie needs more tension or humor. He's likable, but not the most well written. Rita is also really nothing more than a strong female character, though she does get a few good laughs. Ian McKellen is mostly wasted as a pretty weak villain, who nobody in the film really sees as a threat and neither does anyone in the audience. In fact, as a whole, the story isn't particularly interesting. The idea of a posh rat finding himself in a sewer city might have been interesting and it is. Roddy exploring the sewers is the best part of the movie. But the action story isn't nearly as fun and naturally, it takes up most of the movie.

Get Home, Find Jewel, Flush City
      The big problem with the story is that the goal keeps on changing. First it's get Roddy home, then hid a jewel, then escape from a revenge seeking toad, then get Roddy home, then save the city from tidal wave, then ending. It's simply hard to get invested in a story when the story keeps changing. Then again, the trademark Aardman humor is still here. Sure, it's a little heavy on the pop culture references, but this is Dreamworks after all. The only time they were really annoying was a series of running joke featuring, oddly enough, Nemo from Finding Nemo. Bill Nighy though steals the show as Whitey, one of Aardman's funniest characters. The animation is just fine. This was Aardman's first entry into the world of CG animation and I'll admit I missed the claymation. The film tries so hard to replicate the claymation in CG and it doesn't quite work. Somethings off and it can bit a little distraction. That's sorta the film's big problem. It's good, but something about it isn't quite right.

Mmmm, Taco Bell...
That's Really the Title?

      I'm honestly not quite sure. None of Aardman's films, even Wallace and Gromit, have done particularly well in the US, with most succeeding overseas. Maybe it's the British humor, but families just didn't go to these films. But, then again, I saw Wallace and Gromit, Flushed Away and The Pirates! all in theaters with my family and most of the people I know did too. Maybe it was the fact that the film's animation was recognizable as Aardman's distinctive Claymation. Or, more accurately, it was the awful title that always reminded people of a toilet. Also, the fact that characters that appeared in the film's trailer (Cute, butler hamsters) never appeared in the final product. Whatever the reason, Flushed Away failed. 

A Simple Yes

      So, yeah, in the end, Flushed Away did deserve better. While, yes, it's Aardman's weakest film, it's still better than a lot of Dreamworks films at the time. The film just isn't that strong. It's all good, but not great. The acting is only good, the characters are only good, the animation, the writing, the humor, it's all only good. And while that is not a bad thing, being only good, it still makes for a not very memorable film. Flushed Away gets 4 stars out of 6. 

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