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I'm just guessing that the kids from Bristol felt a little stranded in California. But that feeling is in the movie, which is about the hero's displacement when he's thrown into a strange milieu, and his desperate need to find a sense of community in the new Oz. In Chicken Run, the outsider was a brash American rooster who crash-landed in an English hen house. In Flushed Away, the English hero is dumped into a land where the natives scheme, shout and betray, In a word: Hollywood.
When Aardman made Chicken Run, its first film sponsored by DreamWorks, Park and Lord talked about the visits Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks' animation chief, made to Bristol. Katzenberg would make his points, at an American force and volume, then Park and Lord would nod politely and continue doing what they wanted. Katzenberg basically bought the right to be ignored graciously.
This time, it appears, Katzenberg was in charge. The movie's pulse races, compared to the tempo of Chicken Run. The film teems with pop-cultural allusions, referencing Finding Nemo (a small fish asking "Have you seen my dad?") and Monty Python & the Holy Grail (a mosquito that finds itself on Toad's tongue and shouts, "Run away!"). Roddy's groin takes quite a pummeling; that's less Wallace and Gromit than Larry, Curly and Moe. The script, like those of many a DreamWorks animated movie, seems assembled from a brainstorming super-session, in which bright guys spit out funny gags, and every one of them gets into the movie. With a barrage of these jabs, Flushed Away works you over and wears you down, until you surrender to giggles or get defiant and shut out the noise.
The result is both slick and coarsefine entertainment, as I say, but deficient in the comedy of reticence discouragement that is Aardman's (or maybe just Nick Park's) unique strength. I don't want to say the Englishmen were corrupted, but I think they allowed their strongest, quirkiest instincts to be tethered. The American movie industry is like that, and foreigners will have their hearts broken if they think they'll get bigger budgets and cooler tools without having to pay in some way for them.
None of this is to say that stop-motion animation is inherently noble, or that computer cartoons can't bear the imprint of one creatorcan't have soul. It's in a way a matter of corporate identity for a hand-made film studio. Should Aardman go fully into 3-D? For stop-motion specialists, is CGI a hare-brained scheme, like the ones Wallace is always hatching, needing Gromit to extricate him? Or does it represent the inevitable next step? Once the Aardmen have made a film with computer, can they return to the old ways? Go back home? How're ya gonna keep 'em playing with clay after they've gone 3-D? And how many consecutive rhetorical questions can I pose?
It could be that I'm no less a traditionalist than the dear eccentrics in Curse of the Were-Rabbit, determined to celebrate their vegetable festival as they've done for 500 years. Aardman is a business, and with Were-Rabbit earning only half the box office cash of Chicken Run, DreamWorks will want to protect its investment; Park and Lord will have to listen more attentively to Katzenberg. (He is unlikely, for example, to approve another Wallace and Gromit feature after the first one tanked.)
There's one other traditionalist at Aardman: Nick Park. He hasn't gone 3-D, or Hollywood. And if his subordinates remain dazzled by the facility of CGI, Park may be back in his basement, making his sad and beautiful creatures come to life all on his own.