Arthur and the Invisibles was a pleasant surprise as so many fantasy movies have been such resounding disappointments lately. If this is to be Luc Besson’s coup de grace and adieu to filmmaking, then it is a well-made finale to a fine career; even though it stands in stark contrast for a man whose body of work includes La Femme Nikita and The Professional. It’s a fun adventure that has great animation, which balances well with a live action component which creates a modern fairy tale that will appeal to kids who love Wizard of Oz and Final Fantasy equally.
Arthur (Freddie Highmore) is a young boy that lives with his grandmother (Mia Farrow) on the rural farm she shares with her missing husband Archibald (Ron Crawford). A developer is threatening to take the debt-saddled farm in 48 hours, unless Archibald returns to make restitution. Archibald is an engineer and African explorer, and for his helping one African tribe he was given some priceless rubies, which he buried somewhere in his backyard, leaving clues around his study so that Arthur might follow. Arthur takes the challenge and follows his Grandpa into the world of the Minimoys—little, Wish Troll-like creatures that find themselves under threat from the evil Maltazard (voice of David Bowie).
I love the world of the Minimoys. It’s sort of like The Littles meets Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I like the look of the movie’s animated sequences, it’s a little more in the vein of a video game than anything that’s come out of Disney or Dreamworks and that will probably appeal to the kids who were driven to the theatre while playing their Gameboys. Also helping the story along is the tremendous English-language voice cast that Besson put together; whether it’s Bowie’s perfectly evil Maltazard, Madonna’s level-headed princess or Robert De Niro’s absent-minded King of the Minimoys. Jason Bateman, Snoop Dogg, Anthony Anderson, Jimmy Fallon and the brothers Corrdry round up the colourful menagerie of voice talent.
One of the things that holds Arthur back is the fact that I found a lot of the humour would probably be over the heads of the target audience, but not in a way that I think would make kids ask pestering questions. The CG and the live-action aren’t quite as integrated as well as Besson would probably like; the transitions aren’t nearly as seamless as they should have been or could have been I guess.
I’ve read a lot of other reviews of this movie that throw a litany of complaints at it, ranging from calling it a rip-off of Dark Crystal to suggesting that it’s somehow racist as Snoop and Anderson voice characters that vaguely look like monkeys. By this measurement it sounds like Arthur should be the KKK children’s movie of the year for highlighting the nobility and magical properties of white people. To these critics, I say chill out. I don’t know where they come up with these notions and I don’t want to know. It might stop me in the future from getting a measure of actual enjoyment of something. Take my word for it, Arthur and the Invisibles is jolly, good fun.