Flushed Away, the new feature from Aardman Animations (the clay-figure stop-motion animators who also produced Chicken Run and the ingenious Wallace & Gromit films), revels in its British-ness. It's full of bone-dry wit, football references and ribs on the French.
The film's hero, a domesticated rat named Roddy (Hugh Jackman), is the perfect comic embodiment of upper-class English propriety: John Cleese with floppy ears and buckteeth. Hailing from the tony London neighborhood of Kensington, Roddy is effete, pampered and exceedingly well dressed. But when a rough-and-tumble cockney sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie) comes crashing into Roddy's posh little world, our hero is sent kicking and screaming down the toilet bowl and into the harsh sewer world below, where rats, frogs and slugs have re-created a tiny London beneath the real city's surface.
Roddy seeks out the aid of a spunky boat captain (Kate Winslet), who takes mercy on the poor house rat and agrees to help him get home. Pursuing them, however, is the sinister Toad (Ian McKellen), who has plans to eradicate the underground city during halftime of the World Cup. With his wobbly eyes and stentorian oratory, Toad commands every scene he's in like an unhinged community-theater Shakespeare villain.
Flushed Away has a smart and subtle sense of humor, and unlike so many kids' movies these days, it features characters who are living, breathing parts of a small ecosystem, rather than just caricatures created to spout out one-liners and sell Happy Meals.