Movie Review: Arthur et les Minimoys
FILM REVIEW: ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES
By Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
"Arthur and the Invisibles" is a fantasy film confection that mixes live action and animation with the kind of audience-grabbing zest and copycat frenzy we expect from Luc Besson, the director of "La Femme Nikita," "The Big Blue" and other French-fried romps inspired by American big-studio movies.
It's a pretty good picture, albeit a strange one: a fantasy adventure set in '60s New England about a little boy, Arthur (Freddie Highmore of "Finding Neverland"), who, seemingly abandoned by his parents, is living with his somewhat fey but lovable Granny (Mia Farrow). Arthur's imagination is sparked by the African adventure diary of his absent granddad Archibald (Ron Crawford), and following Granddad's instructions, he discovers a magical kingdom in his back yard. This alternative world, a lighter, poppier version of the kind of wondrous underworld Guillermo del Toro created in "Pan's Labyrinth," is a miniature sub-Tolkien realm full of tiny people - kings, feisty princesses, wicked wizards and bouncy elves.
To get there, Arthur shrinks to size of the beings who inhabit this realm, the Minimoys. ("Arthur et les Minimoys" is this film's French title.) He becomes a kind of smart-alecky human hobbit, and his quest takes on added tension because he's trying to find some hidden rubies to save his family's house from foreclosure and demolition by a nasty developer, Davido (Adam LeFevre).
Besson got the idea and story from Patrice and Celine Garcia, the husband-and-wife artist and writer, and Celine did the screenplay with him. (Besson himself has written books about Arthur's world with the pair, after they first suggested the idea to him as a TV series.) He's obviously having fun with it. There's a middle Spielberg feel to this fantasy land, but Besson makes these near-sugary figures tougher by having streetwise voice actors such as Robert De Niro as the King, Madonna as the princess Selenia and Chazz Palminteri as the travel agent.
I wasn't sure about Madonna as a (somewhat) romantic interest for Highmore's Arthur. But she and the rest of the cast take any hint of the old Disney '50s-'60s sentimental slush off these characters. Harvey Keitel and Snoop Dogg, for example, make uncharacteristic but welcome cartoon appearances as Miro and Max, whose names suggest the old studio of Harvey and Bob Weinstein. (They run "Arthur's" presenter studio, the Weinstein Company.) David Bowie, as head villain Maltazard, is one wicked wizard.
Besson's pseudo-American movies sometime irritate Americans. (The French-language version of "Arthur" was a hit in France.) As a director, he definitely lacks a light touch. And there's no denying that a lot of "Arthur and the Invisibles," like almost all of "The Fifth Element," is way over the top visually, especially when Arthur, Selenia and Maltazard start mixing it up. But the movie is amusing in ways that the lesser recent feature cartoons, like the murky, floppy "Happily N'Ever After," aren't. They suggest a fantasy world that's at least real to its authors.
Besson isn't trying for the state-of-the-art Pixar/DreamWorks splendors he admires. But, in his more modest way, he's looking to rev up our imaginations. The movie, while it doesn't knock you out, doesn't self-destruct either. Besson may never rise to the level of his best American models here, but it's fun watching him try.
("Arthur and the Invisibles" had some changes in the narration and music after the version screened for critics in Chicago.)
"Arthur and the Invisibles"
Directed by Luc Besson; written by Besson and Celine Garcia (idea); photographed by Thierry Arbogast; production designed by Hugues Tissandier; music by Eric Serra; produced by Besson, Stephane Lecomte and Emmanuel Prevost. An MGM release of a Weinstein Company presentation. Running time: 1:34. MPAA rating: PG (fantasy action and brief suggestive material).
Arthur - Freddie Highmore
Granny - Mia Farrow
Archibald - Ronald Crawford
Selenia (voice) - Madonna
The King (voice) - Robert De Niro
Miro (voice) - Harvey Keitel
Max (voice) - Snoop Dogg
Maltazard (voice) - David Bowie