I liked this, but I think I would have liked it better if I hadn’t sort of … seen it all before. I mean, really. Animation and CGI have reached a point where you can now be amused and engaged, but I’m afraid the sensation we got with, say, Toy Story, or with Lord of the Rings, the feeling of being blown away, is forever gone. There simply isn’t anything more they can do with special effects, or with animation magic. If someone manages to show me something new anytime soon, I’d be very surprised. And in the end, isn’t the whole point of CGI and animation—these days, at least—to boggle the mind? Can’t be done. (I’d love to be proved wrong.)
So a film must stand or fall these days on the story … and a lot of animated features recently have come up short. This one satisfies, though again, there are a lot of rather familiar elements. This is the first all-CGI movie for these folks, the ones who brought you Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. They’ve retained their trademark character look, with the bulbous eyes and wide mouths. They look like claymation. And like everything these days, the characters are all voiced by live-action movie stars, thus driving up the already high price of the movie and leaving a lot of cartoon-voice actors with the bit parts, but apparently guaranteeing good box office. Why? I don’t understand why having Kate Winslet voice a rat should make any difference. I’d have never have known it was her if they hadn’t told me. Same with Hugh Jackman, Jean Reno … the whole cast, actually. They are all quite competent, but you really can’t tell. That’s a pet peeve. Here’s another. Though the backgrounds are wonderfully imagined and incredibly detailed, you seldom get to see most of it for more than half a second. The only way to appreciate a lot of it is to have a large, HDTV screen, and go through it frame by frame looking for the funny little inside jokes you don’t have time to see otherwise. Apparently there are people willing to do this. At the IMDb there is a list of the DVD titles we see, for a few seconds in one scene.
Somebody paused it and wrote them all down. Amazing dedication! They are funny … but I couldn’t read them even if I did freeze-frame, on our dinky little set.
Often in a film like this it’s the small touches that work best. Here it is a lot of slugs who provide a musical Greek chorus for the action. Very clever stuff. And I must note, before flushing this review, that most of this film takes place in a sewer that contains every kind of flotsam imaginable … except turds. I was just remarking this, when our hero, floating along, grabs onto what looks like a turd (eek! he eeks), and turns out to be a chocolate candy bar. After that, the subject is forgotten. I’m down with that. There are plenty of farting and belching jokes to make up for it.