Yet another animated feature hits the screens this year in the form of the heavily promoted Flushed Away. But what, at first glance, appears to be just another anemic kiddie-cartoon looking to ride the green wave of toy sales and fast-food promotions, is actually anything but. The first thing audiences will notice is that the team of Aardman Features and Dreamworks Animation carry on with their unique visual style of stop-motion animation popularized by Chicken Run and last year's Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. But what they may not realize is that this time around, due to the grand scale of some of the film's scenes, coupled with the difficulty of creating water using stop-motion animation, the filmmakers employed the use of CGI. Good decision. The film has a shiny newness to it that gives a much-needed update to Aardman's charming wit and rich sensibilities.

Roddy (Hugh Jackman) is a pampered city mouse whose posh existence in the heart of Kensington is literally flushed down the toilet. In trying to trick a Cockney sewer rat that has invaded his exquisite apartment into believing the toilet is a whirlpool, Roddy instead finds himself circling the porcelain bowl before winding up in the bustling world below the streets of London. Of course we've known that world exists full of rodents, bugs, amphibians, vermin, and the like but we've never seen it like this before. And that's part of the fun of Flushed Away. The sewer's inhabitants have as strong a distaste for the above-ground world as we have for them.

Flushed Away quickly becomes a fish out of water (sorry) story when Roddy eventually meets up with Rita (Kate Winslett), a street-wise rat who seems to be his only hope of getting back home. But Rita has plans of her own... and they don't involve Roddy. Rita and Roddy strike a deal that Roddy hopes will eventually land him back in his guilded cage where he can return to driving his Barbie car and skiing on mountains of ice cream before his owners return from Holiday. But first he must help Rita escape the slimy clutches of the villainous Toad (Ian McKellen) whose personal mission it is to rid the sewer world of filthy rodents.

Although it's digitally animated, the film manages to retain most of the personal nuances we've come to love from Aardman's brand of claymation. Hair doesn't look like it came from the latest digital hair and appendage software package. It still looks like strings of Play-doh rolled out on a table and affixed to the top of the characters' heads. And we've still got that signature Aardman plasticine monobrow that so vividly carried Gromit's expressions in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And if you look closely enough you might even notice that some of the characters have thumbprints on them.

As we've come to expect from these type films, the dialogue is loaded with numerous goofy puns and timely pop-culture references that always provide entertainment for the grown-ups, but I don't think we've ever had them thrown at us at such a machine-gun like pace. Some miss the target, and some will require a second viewing to catch, but most are downright hilarious. The bone-dry British wit will undoubtedly fly right over the heads of the youngsters as many of the jokes are pointed at Prince Charles and the French. The hilarious running gag involving slugs is reminiscent of that provided by Scrat from the Ice Age movies, but only funnier. The singing slugs run us through a familiar soundtrack of such ditties as Billy Idol's Dancing With Myself, Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy and Burt Bacharach's What's New Pussycat.

Despite the film's technological wizardry, and its laugh-out-loud physical humor, its true attraction comes from the same place it always has with an Aardman film from brilliant storytelling. An Aardman film has always had that special way of making us care for the characters, and this talent doesn't get lost in Flushed Away, as is so often the case with these glossy CGI features.

Flushed Away is the best animated film of the year, period. Watch it on the big screen then buy the DVD. I promise you'll find something new to laugh at every time you watch it.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: English; French; Spanish

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; trailers; making-of featurettes; commentary; games.

* Commentary • Feature-length audio commentary with Directors David Bowers and Sam Fell)
* Featurettes
o From Clay to CG: A Technical Journey
o Jammy Dodger Fly-Thru
o The Music of Flushed Away
o Meet the Cast
* Gallery
o Animator's Gallery
o Behind the Scenes Interactive Tour (Name TBD)
* DVD-Rom
o Learn to Draw Roddy
o DWA Jukebox
o Flushed Away Juke Box
o Build-A-Slug
o Set Top Games: A Maze of Pipes
o Flushed Away Underground Adventure DVD-ROM Game
o Printables DVD-ROM Feature
o 2 Animated Slug Songs ('Pump It', and 'I Don't Feel Like Dancing'.)

Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase Packaging