Give Luc Besson credit for filling his animated/live action fantasy “Arthur and the Invisibles” with more imagination than you’ll find in most alleged children’s fare these days (ahem, “Happily N’Ever After”), which makes it such a pity that the movie gets completely lost in translation from French to English. (“Arthur et les Minimoys” is the original title) The American voice actors, even the good ones, never get a feel for the style or pacing of the source material, and the movie turns into a big race from one scene to the next.
Freddie Highmore (the clear heir to Haley Joel Osment’s throne) stars as Arthur, an adventurous boy who lives with his Granny (Mia Farrow) while his parents are off working day and night in the big city. Granny has been hurting for cash since Arthur’s grandfather disappeared years ago, and the bank is threatening to foreclose on the farm in a matter of days. But Arthur’s grandfather left behind a series of hidden clues that lead to a stash of rubies buried somewhere on the property. As Arthur follows his grandfather’s instructions, he is magically transported to the land of the Minimoys, an infinitesimal race of beings led by the King (Robert De Niro). The Minimoys are familiar with Arthur’s grandfather, and they agree to help Arthur find the rubies in exchange for help defending against the Voldemort-ish Maltazard (David Bowie) and his band of thugs.
The animation, while jumpy, is quite lovely in a strange, Troll Doll kind of way. The most amusing sequence is when Maltazar’s goons catch up with Arthur, Princess Selenia (Madonna) and her little brother Betameche (Jimmy Fallon) at the establishment of Max (Snoop Dogg), and a fight breaks out on a record player (and what a pleasant surprise that we hear not a generic alt-rock song but Mirwais’ “Disco Science”). The problem, however, is that the dialogue is far too wordy, and the performances of that wordy dialogue are weak. Fallon, in particular, is dreadful, spitting out his dialogue in a rapid-fire manner that sounds more like the “Chinpoko” episode of “South Park” than anything else. Bowie fares better, but his Maltazar is all exposition, all the time. Even De Niro seems out of his element, but since he’s surrounded by Fallon and Madonna (who’s at least better than Fallon), he escapes relatively unharmed.
The best movies for children are the ones that inspire as much as they entertain. People may be flocking to “Night at the Museum,” but it will not inspire children to do anything other than beg their parents to buy the DVD. “Arthur and the Invisibles,” on the other hand, could have been the movie that turned a doodler into an artist, or a scribbler of words into a storyteller. The execution, however, undoes all of the movie’s promise.(3 / 5)
This originally ran January 7, 2007 on Bullz-Eye.com.