For his children's fantasy Arthur and the Invisibles
, writer-director Luc Besson
appears to have grabbed bits of this and that from a number of fairy tales, tossed them into a blender and hoped for a family adventure. The result isn't an unpalatable pudding but rather a fair-to-middling children's film that is half CG-animation and half live-action. Adults may shake their heads at the blatant borrowings from the King Arthur legend and The Wizard of Oz
to the 1980s comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
, but many youngsters will enjoy the ride.
The film will also supply the answer at some future date to the barroom challenge: What 2006 movie starred Madonna, David Bowie and Snoop Dogg
? The trick is that these singer-actors do not appear in this movie but perform the voices of several of the tiny CG beings who live in the hero's backyard.
The decision by MGM
and the Weinsteins to move the national release of Arthur to Jan. 12 is odd, since it will miss the holidays when the film's biggest audience is out of school. This does avoid head-to-head competition with "Charlotte's Web," though, so perhaps the film will have the playing field more to itself.
Besson's story is based on his own children's book, Arthur and the Minimoys, which he adapted in a screenplay written with visual artist Celine Garcia. Young Arthur (Freddie Highmore
of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") lives on a Connecticut homestead with his grandmother (Mia Farrow
) and pet dog. Life is good, but he does suffer from neglect by his parents, wage slaves in a distant city.
His vivid fantasy life is fueled by tales of his grandfather, who mysteriously disappeared awhile back. In deepest Africa, granddad made friends with a jungle tribe of huge proportions and, conversely, the Minimoys, a tribe of tiny creatures.
An evil real estate developer will foreclose on the grandmother's property in 48 hours unless she can come up with a king's ransom. Arthur's rescue plan sends him searching for African rubies his granddad buried in the yard. A treasure map, conveniently discovered in a nick of time, instructs Arthur to miniaturize himself by passing through a telescope into the land of the Minimoys, inch-tall creatures who inhabit the backyard.
Here, insects assume huge sizes, and good and evil are locked in constant warfare. There is a good king, a villain whose name no one dares speak, a rastaman named Max (Snoop) and a princess (Madonna). He falls in love with the tiny princess and must travel with her and her younger brother toward the center of power for the evil Maltazard (Bowie) and the place where he believes his grandfather is a prisoner. All this is done as a cartoon, but even so, the idea of Madonna coming on to a 10-year-old boy is a bit weird.
The action and derring-do are exciting, but Besson drags things out considerably for his young audience at 122 minutes. The CG work is clever but cannot measure up to Pixar
's standards in cleverness or imagination. Nothing is fresh here. Nevertheless, Besson's tech crew and visual effects overseers make the two worlds meld quite well.
ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES
The Weinstein Co. presents an Europa Corp./Avalanche Prods./Sofica Europacorp/Apipoulai production
Director: Luc Besson
Screenwriters: Luc Besson
, Celine Garcia
Based on the book by: Luc Besson
Producers: Luc Besson
, Emmanuel Prevost
Directors of photography: Thierry Arbogast
, Dominique Delguste
Production designer: Hugues Tissandier
Music: Eric Serra
Special effects: Dominique Vidal
Costume designer: Patrice Garcia
Arthur: Freddie Highmore
Grandmother: Mia Farrow
Voice of Princess Selenia: Madonna
Voice of Maltazard: David Bowie
Voice of Max: Snoop Dogg
Mother: Penny Balfour
Father: Doug Rand
Voice of the King: Robert De Niro
Voice of Miro: Harvey Keitel
Voice of the travel agent: Chazz Palminteri
Voice of Ferryman: Emilio Estevez.
Running time -- 122 minutes
MPAA rating: PG