Arthur and the Invisibles Gets Seen

Arthur and the Invisibles, the English-language version of French filmmaker Luc Besson’s new live-action/animation hybrid feature film, opens wide across North America today. The following is a reprint of the review we ran in December when the film first screened for Oscar consideration. The pic has since been deemed ineligible since the Academy found that it didn’t meet the requirement of being 75% animated. Read on for our thoughts on the movie, which is certainly animated enough for us.

I’ve been a fan of director Luc Besson’s work since 1990′s La Femme Nikita, and have particularly enjoyed The Professional (L’on) and his sci-fi actioner The Fifth Element. So when I first heard the French filmmaker was working on an animated feature, I was quite curious to see how it turned out. Based on his own series of children’s books, Arthur and the Invisibles (Arthur et les Minimoys) is not without its flaws, but it is visually inventive, well animated by French studio BUF, and is a unique entry in the year’s hefty slate of toon features.

Arthur and the Invisibles tells the story of a 10-year-old boy named Arthur (Freddie Highmore) who hopes to save his grandmother’s home from being demolished by seeking his grandfather’s treasure, which is hidden in the land of the tiny Minimoys. Having collected clues left behind by his grandfather, Arthur discovers a way into the Minimoys’ world and teams with Princess Selenia (Madona) and her brother, Betameche (Jimmy Fallon) to defeat the evil Malthazard (David Bowie) and retrieve a stash of precious rubies. The English-language voice cast also includes Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Snoop Dogg, Emilio Estevez, Jason Bateman and Chazz Palminteri.

Like Henry Selick’s James and the Giant Peach, the film begins with a live-action setup featuring Highmore as Arthur and Mia Farrow as his grandmother. When our hero gets ‘Minimoyzed’ he becomes CG-animated like everything else in the Minimoy world. Most of the action from here on is animated, but Besson cuts back to Farrow from time to time as she searches for Arthur around the house and fends off a greedy land developer. Some of the supporting live-action performances are over-the-top and cartoonish, which some adults might cringe at. However, the film doesn’t talk down to adults and taps into a universal desire to believe that there are places left to be discovered on this planet, magical worlds existing in a delicate balance with our own.

Warner Bros.’ Ant Bully also centered on a kid who gets shrunken to learn what life is like for the tiniest of creatures that roam our backyards, but that’s where the similarities end. Arthur draws more form Arthurian legend and sci-fi favorites such as George Lucas’ Star Wars, Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and Besson’s own The Fifth Element. Arthur isn’t a reluctant hero, but rather a consistently brave and gung-ho adventurer with a big heart and a lot on the line, literally.

Budgeted at around $80 million, the film is the most expensive European animated feature to date, and the money is on the screen in the form of beautifully rendered animation and a generous amount of action, one of Besson’s strong suits. Since the movie was dubbed over in English, the lip-sync is a bit off at times and the voice performances often seem a bit shoe-horned to match the lip movements, but it’s doubtful that kids will even notice or care. Most will be swept along with the film’s zippy pace and its well-balanced blend of humor and suspense. Despite their 3D modeling, the characters are fairly one-dimensional but they’re likeable enough that you care what happens to them.

Besson has plans to make at least two sequels, and hopefully he’ll iron out some of the rough spots and develop the characters a bit more. Despite their 3D modeling, the Minimoys in this first film are all fairly one-dimensional, but they’re likeable enough that you care what happens to them.

Arthur and the Invisibles is produced by Europacorp in co-production with Avalanche Prods. and Apipoulai Prods., and is distributed by MGM and The Weinstein Co. It may not be on par with such recent hits as Pixar’s Cars, DreamWorks’ Over the Hedge and Flushed Away or Warner Bros.’ Happy Feet in terms of overall execution, but it’s at the forefront of a coming wave of competitive toons made outside the Hollywood system. Furthermore, it feels fresh at a time when theaters are filled to the brim with talking animal comedies and certainly deserves a look.

Ryan Ball

Online Editor