Roddy St. James has it made ... until life goes down the toilet. Literally.
As a pampered pet mouse living in London's posh Kensington district, things are going swimmingly for Roddy. His doting family has gone on holiday, giving him the run of the well-appointed house. But they've barely locked the door when an obnoxious sewer rat named Sid pops up uninvited through the pipes. Roddy tries to show Sid some royal "hospitality," inviting the unkempt rodent to take a refreshing dip in the Jacuzzi, aka the toilet. But sewer-wise Sid is not so easily fooled—and it's Roddy who gets flushed away.
At the end of his unexpected, disorienting journey into the dank underworld, Roddy discovers an entire city (modeled after London) of subterranean citizens (mostly rats and, oddly, singing slugs). Roddy, however, isn't much interested in exploration. He's desperate to find a way back to the surface, and he eventually meets a plucky young rat named Rita who, as self-named captain of the small sewer boat Jammy Dodger, just might be able to help him get home.
But Rita's got problems of her own. Namely, the despicable crime boss Toad, who's sent his bumbling henchrats Spike and Whitey to relieve Rita of a ruby she took from him (which he, in turn, had stolen from her father). But Toad's nefarious plot goes much further than merely retrieving the coveted gem. It involves "cleansing" the rats from the sewer—permanently. To that end, Toad enlists the services of his ninja-like French cousin, Le Frog, to stop Rita and Roddy.
One of the film's strongest messages is the importance of family and friendships. Initially, Roddy and Rita are presented as self-absorbed, in different ways. Roddy's life has been one of wealth and privilege, while Rita is determined to do things her own way without anyone's help. Despite these hurdles, however, their friendship grows and each begins to put the other's needs first.
Roddy eventually meets Rita's large (and eccentric) family, and he sees that Dad and Mom have deep affection not only for Rita, their eldest daughter, but for their many other offspring. The younger siblings adore their big sister, who no longer lives at home. The large family is clearly very poor, yet their love for one another and ingenuity at meeting their needs offsets the challenge of poverty. For her part, Rita doesn't want her family to be poor forever, and she seeks to augment her family's meager income.
After witnessing such camaraderie and love, Roddy begins to wonder if his rich but lonely life as a pet is really all it's cracked up to be. He has all the material possessions he needs—and then some—but he doesn't have friends or family. [Spoiler Warning] In the end, Roddy realizes relationships are more important than material things—so much so that he willingly leaves his old way of life behind to help Rita rescue the city of unsuspecting rats from certain doom.
One of the characters Roddy encounters in the underground city is a rat wearing a sandwich board warning others about the end of the world. He's prophesying that a great flood will wipe out the rats' home (a well-founded fear, since that's exactly what Toad has in mind). Right before Roddy returns to save the city, this religious rat exclaims, "Lo, a chosen one shall come down from above. He shall be our savior!" Elsewhere, Toad alludes to the Garden of Eden when he talks about being cast from paradise.
Flushed Away generally avoids sexual innuendo and double entendres, more so than many other animated films these days. But it still features a few mildly suggestive moments. A character alerts Toad's henchrats that Rita is hiding the ruby in her back pocket by saying, "The booty's in the booty." Toad describes a bust of Queen Victoria's face as "smooth to the touch," to which Roddy responds, "Easy, Tiger."
Three brief scenes include underwear. In the first, Roddy flies through a clothesline and ends up with underwear on his head. Another scene focuses on Rita's senile grandmother, who's mistakenly convinced that Roddy is singer Tom Jones; she responds by hurling her underwear at him. (Thankfully, we don't see her removing her underpants; adults will infer what has happened, while younger viewers probably will have no idea why Roddy suddenly has the garment on his head.) When Roddy leaves, Grandma mourns that she won't have anyone to cuddle with. Later, she inadvertently kisses a slug. In yet another I-see-London-I-see-France scene, Roddy accidentally pulls Rita's pants down as the pair hang perilously from a wire, briefly revealing her modest (nearly knee-length) underwear.
The vast majority of violence in Flushed Away is very cartoonish. Characters are knocked around a good bit, such as when Roddy gets flushed down the loo. He bangs his head on pipes all the way down. His hand gets fried by a street vendor as if it were a hamburger patty. Repetitious slapstick shenanigans mark the bad guys' pursuit of Rita and Roddy.
A few scenes, though, are more realistically violent. Roddy jumps from a ledge and falls forcibly on his crotch—four times—after which a young mouse adds injury to injury by kicking a soccer ball in the same vicinity. (Spike later has a similar experience.) Several characters are severely shocked. (We see their skeletons outlined in classic cartoon style as this happens.) Roddy and Rita are threatened within an inch of their lives with a menacing nutcracker. They're also almost frozen alive. Rita is kidnapped and pulled around with a chain.
Toad lashes out his tongue to catch and eat a fly. Roddy and Rita sacrifice a fly's life to distract Le Frog and his "men." Toad and Le Frog's tongues become painfully extended and entangled—by a set of giant gears. Rita punches Roddy square in the face.
James Bond's love for guns gets a nod.
Crude or Profane Language
There's no profanity in Flushed Away—at least in English. Le Frog takes God's name in vain twice in French ("mon dieu!"). Exasperated characters excoriate others with such terms as "reject," "freak," "whacko," "idiot," "loony," "cheese eater," "fruitcake," "loser" and "dipstick." Rita says "blooming" and "load of rubbish," and she calls Toad a "big fat slimy airbag" while slapping her backside to insult him. Roddy blurts out "heaven help me."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Le Frog downs some (English) wine, then contemptuously spits it out. Sid talks about frequenting a pub.
Other Negative Elements
Upon his arrival in the sewer, Roddy reflexively clutches—then releases—a bobbing, partially unwrapped candy bar that momentarily looks like what you'd expect to find floating in the sewer. Mercifully, the movie only plays this scatological joke once. But we do still witness rodents belching and passing gas. Whitey makes a gross but obscure "bum" reference about what happens after eating curry. While eating, Roddy mistakes maggots for rice.
Roddy lies to Sid about the toilet's function, insisting it's a Jacuzzi. Sid himself is a slob and glutton, messily feasting on Roddy's family's food in the mouse's absence. Roddy also lies to Rita when initially asked about his family; after experiencing Rita's loving clan, he is too embarrassed to admit that he has no family or friends. Roddy steals jewelry from his family and gives it to Rita, a dubious action that the film doesn't comment upon.
As today's animated films go, I found Flushed Away (the first all-CGI offering from the studio behind Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run) neither epic nor awful. I doubt it will become a much-loved classic to be revisited over and over again (like, say, Finding Nemo). Nor do I think most viewers will feel they've been assaulted by so much innuendo that they wonder why they came. The film's few suggestive scenes are both mild and fleeting; underlying sexual allusions will likely be lost on younger viewers, I suspect.
Accept for a moment that this is a cartoon, and that cartoons are almost always cartoonish. In other words, violent on one level or another. The most noticeable leaks in Flushed Away's pipes are, then, Rita's never-resolved obsession with the ruby (which at times seems to go beyond her desire to help her family) and her flippant, often abrasive interactions with almost everyone she meets.
Mostly patching those holes is an engaging emphasis on friendship—and Roddy's self-sacrifice and shifting priorities. Producer Cecil Kramer says of the film's pro-family, pro-friendship message, "More than anything else, Rita wants to help her family. But she needs to learn that she can't do that alone. When she opens herself up to accepting Roddy's help, anything is possible. And Roddy's journey is universal. You can have all the toys in the world, but they're not worth much if you have no one to share them with. At the end of the day, we all need friends and families to connect [with, and] even the finest possessions pale in comparison to our relationship with others." These themes come through loud and clear.
Several times as I watched the film, it reminded me of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes cartoons of yesteryear. Replace 3-D computer-generated images with hand-drawn caricatures, tone down the modern insults, insert a bit more smoking and drinking, and this story could have been told 50 years ago.