Luc Besson is a master filmmaker ("La Femme Nikita," "Leon," "The Fifth Element"), but when his imagination gets the best of him, the results aren't always pretty. I wouldn't say "Arthur and the Invisibles" (titled "Arthur and the Minimoys" throughout the rest of the world) is such a pain in the behind to watch, but it certainly doesn't have the sparkle that Besson is aiming for.
Living in the country with his grandmother (a spry Mia Farrow), Arthur (Freddie Highmore, "Finding Neverland") is consumed with the adventurous life his traveling grandfather leads. When the bank threatens foreclosure on his grandmother's house, Arthur unearths the help of the Minimoys, a microscopic group of creatures that Arthur must magically shrink himself down to join. Now on the hunt for treasure with his new friends, Princess Selenia (voiced by Madonna) and Betameche (Jimmy Fallon), Arthur encounters an evil scheme by the dark lord Maltazard (David Bowie), who wants to rid the world of all Minimoys.
The awkwardly titled "Invisibles" (leave it to the Weinstein Company to mess with the title for no good or comprehensible reason) is based on a series of popular books written by Besson and has been an adaptation pursuit of his for years now. With his wish granted, the director hurries this film along, paranoid that he will somehow miss any moment of whimsy.
"Invisibles" is a tiring film when it speeds along so rapidly. Besson is pitching the material to a much younger age group than he's used to, so he compensates by making sure nothing in the picture could ever bore. Besson certainly accomplishes his mission, but at the expense of elegance and a simple chance to kick back and enjoy the adventure Arthur has embarked on. To help the film corner even faster, Besson has included some narration that breaks up certain important scenes that might have had the faint lag of genuine pace.
"Invisibles" is a live-action/GC-animated hybrid, and the film improves greatly once Arthur meets the Minimoys. Certainly the live-action material is sufficiently colorful and an appropriate shade of cartoon, but Highmore has been given a free pass from Besson to act his little heart out, and this gifted kid has decided to use the Dakota Fanning 3000 method of predictable, robotic child acting. It's disappointing to witness.
Once the Minimoys enter the picture, the radiant CG animation takes over and "Invisibles" becomes a feast for the eyes. Sure, the voice casting is a little strange (Emilio Estevez, Robert De Niro, and Harvey Keitel contribute), but the visuals soar, with Besson slaving over every detail. The Minimoys look like a cross between Troll Dolls and Mogwais, and Besson has great fun with the miniature world they inhabit. The plot covers all the basics in fantasy storytelling ("Sword and the Stone" is a major influence), but the look of the picture is so crisp and nearly photo-real that it trumps any hint of fatigue the script encounters.
In traditional Besson fashion, the action is high-flying and inventive. A film highlight is Arthur and his Minimoy pals fighting the bad guys on a record player, throwing punches while the needle jumps around the wax hitting new songs with every body dropped.
"Invisibles" ends with a promise for future adventures, and now that Besson has settled into this world, I think the quality can only improve from here. This is far from the filmmaker's best work, but patches of the film show the wonder that only comes with Luc Besson, and that's worth a casual viewing at the very least.
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