Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow, Adam LeFevre, Ron Crawford, the voices of Madonna, Jimmy Fallon, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Chazz Palminteri, Emilio Estevez, Snoop Dogg

MPAA Rating: PG  (for fantasy action and brief suggestive material)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 12/29/06 (limited); 1/12/07 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik

In adapting his own children's books, writer/director Luc Besson panders strictly to his target audience—children under the age of 10—and leaves everyone else to suffer the oh-so cutesy, garish, and abridged style. Arthur and the Invisibles mixes a lame live-action story of a young boy trying to save his grandfather's home from foreclosure (seriously) and a slightly less lame computer-animated story of the same boy transformed into a creature less than an inch tall going on a treasure hunt in the backyard. Both of these plots have been seemingly done to death in family fare, and the movie does nothing to try to revitalize them. The actors in the live-action scenes are playing to the back rows, and the vocal performances of the English-speaking actors dubbing in the French dialogue of the original release are entirely rote. The design of the creatures in the animated segments has a lot of detail, but the actual animation itself is lacking. There are some admittedly clever moments scattered throughout the movie, and even those turn out to be like the rest of the movie—entirely forgettable.

The movie opens with a scrapbook of inventions and adventures, and the narrator tells us the story starts in Africa. Although it's not actually Africa, it's Connecticut 1960. Oh, those French, and their silly, nonsensical humor. Anyway, Arthur (Freddie Highmore) is looking through the illustrated journals of his grandfather, who has been missing for some time now, learning about the old man's travels to Africa and how he introduced irrigation techniques to help the natives, and he builds an irrigation system of his own to help water the radishes. His parents are away looking for work, and his grandmother (Mia Farrow) is helping him celebrate his birthday. David (Adam LeFevre) from the bank quickly ruins the fun by reminding Granny that she only has two days to finalize payments on her and her missing husband's house before he turns the land into apartments. Upon further inspection of his grandpa's diaries, Arthur discovers that a treasure of rubies is hidden somewhere close by, and after some further investigation, he learns that a tribe of miniature peoples called the Minimoys may have the answer. Once he unlocks the key to entering the Minimoys' world, Arthur shrinks, transmogrifies into one of the tiny creatures, and begins his quest.

The Minimoys are precious little things with high foreheads and baby faces, and they aren't the brightest lot. The king (voice of Robert De Niro) is nearing the end of his reign, and his daughter Princess Selenia (voice of Madonna), is lined up to inherent the throne. Arthur's travels are at a most opportune time, as the forces of evil are working to destroy their civilization. The forces of evil also—conveniently enough—are in possession of Arthur's grandfather's rubies, so a trip to meet the evil leader Maltazard (voice of David Bowie) is in order. Along the way, Maltazard's henchmen get in the way, and so there are a few action sequences. Before even setting out, a group of henchmen assault the Minimoy city on, what I assume are, mosquitoes. I say assume, because the movie's action scenes are so choppily edited it's difficult to make heads or tails of the action. Later Arthur, Selenia, and her brother Betameche (voice of Jimmy Fallon) get some help from Max (voice of Snoop Dogg—seriously), who runs a club atop a record player. There's a fight on the revolving record set to changing, anachronistic music that in theory is inspired, but again, the sequence is cut too quickly.

The editing is perhaps an attempt to cover up the sometimes shoddy animation on display here. All of the characters look great, sure, but there are elements missing to give the animation a smooth feel. The technical flaws might be prominent because the characters are so bland. Even the villains make the wrong impression. The imposing stature of Maltazard's son Darkos is downplayed by Jason Bateman's lisp-ridden vocal performance. The henchmen are stupid, but they are a gas, providing the only consistently funny moments in the movie. Only David Bowie hints at some form of malevolence here, and even he succumbs to the problem of simply reading his lines in time with the movement of the character's lips inherent in dubbing. Betameche provides some subdued (read: not too funny) comic relief, although his character is most interesting for his suspicious resemblance to one of those Troll dolls from the 1990s. A romance develops between the cradle-robbing, 1,000-year-old Selenia and Arthur, and it, along with Madonna's voice work, is perfunctory. The story winds down to its predictable (Arthur finds his grandfather (Ron Crawford)) conclusion with ever-lessening (a windup car from the first act provides the tool required to outrun a flood) inspiration and too quickly runs out of dim-witted henchmen.

The movie is bright, the energy is high (too high in the live-action scenes), and it all progresses at a brisk pace. These are not so much saving graces, but they do help distract a little from the wanting animation and script. Arthur and the Invisibles is a movie with imaginative elements but little imagination.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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