I don't recall the last time I encountered a movie with so many sold-out screenings as Borat: et cetera, and I wasn't part of any of them, because "Fandango isn't necessary." I lucked out with my back-up, thankfully, and a film that I hadn't really been looking forward to turned out to be one of the funniest films I've seen all year.

I give you: Flushed Away, the third Aardman Animation feature released through Dreamworks, and the first to be wholly computer-animated. If you think I have some very strong thoughts on that matter, congratulations on your keen insight, but I will hold those thoughts for later.

Let me instead begin with the script. It's not quite up to the lofty heights set by Aardman's Chicken Run and especially Wallace & Gromit, but it's still funnier than any of the many, many, many, many animated films that littered the cinematic landscape this year. I wish I could insert some profound Theory of Everything Comedic, but I can't. It's just that there's a bent British sense of humor running through everything, and a recognition of the fact that kids are resilient little bastards who don't need everything to be safe and pre-processed.

The plot is pure boilerplate, though: Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is a posh pet mouse who finds his home overrun by a fat sewer rat, yada yada yada, Roddy is flushed down the toilet where he has to help the lovely boat captain Rita (Kate Winslet) protect an underground rat metropolis from the ee-vil Toad (Ian McKellan, operating in what I can only call high dudgeon). Lessons are learned, the friendless Roddy learns that people are the bestest, etc.

It is perhaps the most Americanized, and certainly the most Dreamworks-ey of the three Aardman features, which is to say that it is full of cultural references and pop music; but through the proper filter even these banes of the post-modern animated film can be turned into a benefit. This is largely because most of the meta-jokes are put into the mouths of a collection of singing slugs that follow Roddy for no apparent reason than to torment him like a slimy Greek chorus. It's all very brilliant, not for any reason I can put into words, but trust me: when slugs sing "Don't Worry Be Happy," it is hilarious & good.

Much like Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, and much unlike, say, Shark Tale, Flushed Away has a cast of famous actors not because they are famous but because they are good for their roles. I wouldn't have guessed that Hugh Jackman even had a voice, but it is perfectly matched to the role of a tony mouse. I need hardly mention that McKellan makes for a grand villain, with Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis and Jean Reno all providing wonderful backup (it's amazing, by the way, how much an animated rat that looks nothing like Bill Nighy can have Billy Nighy's body language). It's never distracting, because in every case it's a performance, and not a celebrity check-cashing.

Now then: the animation. Let me be the first to admit that there is no conceiveable way that this film could have been made using stop-motion animation. There is water in nearly every scene, and that can only be done in hand-drawn or computer animation. So the alternative to a CGI Flushed Away is no Flushed Away at all, and that would be a sad thing.

But that doesn't mean I have to like CGI, and it doesn't mean that the Aardman house style doesn't lose a bit in translation. The animators do a good job of keeping the traditional huge teeth and glassy eyes, and Aardman uses a wonderful software program to crappify the animation - to make it jerkier and rougher than normal, so that it actually looks hand-made - but there's still something off. It's still smooth and round and fluid, and in a film whose primary appeal is how much coarser it is than the hypercommercial sterility of its Dreamworks stablemates, I find myself longing for a coarser animation style to go right along with the script.

But I can't judge the movie I want, only the movie I saw, and on that level, Flushed Away is fantastic. If there were no such thing as stop-motion animation I imagine I might say something hyperbolic like, "this is the best animated film of 2006!"* Certainly, in a year devoid of comedy, it's one of the funniest films, animated or not, and that is something to be extremely grateful for.

8/10