Fun trivia: Flushed Away was originally going to be about pirates. Dreamworks, who constantly meddled (or tried to) with Aardman’s projects, shut that idea down, saying that pirates weren’t popular. Four Pirates of the Caribbean movies later and Aardman shifting from Dreamworks to Sony Animation’s umbrella, they finally get to revisit that idea. And it is glorious.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) wants to finally win the Pirate of the Year award. Unfortunately, he has no booty and he and his crew have very little apparent pirating skills. Then he runs into Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who identifies the Captain’s “parrot” as a dodo, and gets the crew to go to England for the Scientist of the Year competition, all while they try to avoid the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
The main thing that the movie does so well is being absolutely dense with gags. There’s visual puns, wordplay, and slapstick regularly going on at the same time. That means that even if one joke just doesn’t hit right, there’s another one right around the corner, or even in the background. The sets are filled with posters and pictures that just add to what’s going on in the foreground. And naturally, being Aardman (who also did Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run), the stop-motion animation is lavish. It particularly shows when you start looking at the pure detail put into everything. They didn’t have to have that background character blink to show that they’re not just a living prop, but they did.
This is also a movie that delights in being absolutely ridiculous. One of the pirates is The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen—and yes, the Captain’s entire crew is named like this), a female pirate disguised as a male by wearing an obvious beard. This never becomes a subplot or even more than the focus of a few gags. It’s just there because that’s the universe this movie lives in. It throws anachronisms in as it sees fit, plays with history in a ridiculous manner. It doesn’t really care as long as it’s funny. And it works. Of course, this does mean that for the time when the movie shifts to drama for a bit, it starts to grind to a halt. It doesn’t quite get there, thanks to launching into a wonderful finale, but you can feel it getting close.
I’ve seen some people say that Aardman is slumming it a bit with this and the also-hilarious Arthur Christmas. Maybe so, but if this is Aardman at a weaker point, all they’re doing is proving that, at their worst, they can still make a wholly entertaining movie with a great voice cast, plenty of gags, and some incredible animation.