Aardman's first foray into CG animation happily retains much of the eccentricity of earlier stop-motion works like The Wrong Trousers and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit. Although Flushed Away is on a much bigger scale than its homely predecessors, it's still comfortably offbeat and funny. It should make a nice pre-Christmas trip to the cinema for adults and children alike.

The film's an attempt by Aardman and co-producers DreamWorks to move in on territory usually ruled by Pixar. As such, the adventure reminds a bit of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. But characterization retains a Wallace & Gromit touch, so the film's distinctive enough not to suffer by comparison. This is in part due to its Brit origins, and a consequent residue of British humor--it's part-scripted by two semi-legendary Brit TV scriptwriters, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

The story's about Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a pampered pet mouse who's flushed down the toilet into the London sewers. Once there, he finds a replica London constructed out of human debris that's inhabited by rats and mice. Roddy's only chance of getting back "up-top," as the human world is known, is by hooking up with courageous adventuress Rita (voiced by Kate Winslet). Rita has a gizmo-filled boat, the Jammy Dodger, that's good for the journey. Unfortunately, Rita's locked in a battle with the charmless gangster Toad (voiced by Ian McKellen)--and she wants the epicene Roddy's help.

Aardman says that they chose CG animation to tell this story because it would have been impossible to animate it with stop motion. This is true--it would have been difficult to create the many watery scenes in the sewer using stop motion, as water can't be animated that way. Technology can often make things too easy, but Aardman has worked hard to stay creative throughout. The mouse city, which uses boxes and other discarded goods to replicate landmarks like Big Ben, is a lot of fun, and the action scenes are fluid without being showy.

The script, by Clement and La Frenais and three other writers, does tend to lurch about. But that doesn't really distract from the enjoyment. The main thrust is a typical romantic mismatch between Roddy and Rita. Some jokes will only resonate with English viewers--a "shut that door" quote from camp Brit comedian Larry Grayson, for instance--but generally the humor's more American than in the Wallace & Gromit films.

Jackman (who looks a bit like his character), and Winslet (who doesn't) perform with aplomb, and McKellen is suitably pantomime-like as the terrible toad. A bonus is Jean Reno as the smarmy Le Frog, an Inspector Clouseau-style character that's straight out of the Pink Panther cartoon series. A rogues' gallery of supporting characters ensures there's nary a dull moment throughout.