A blend of live-action and animation that got its release in France first, "Arthur and the Invisibles" didn't get much notice at the US box office thanks to fairly minimal promotion. I'd seen the ads for the film prior to its theatrical release, but was completely unaware that it was directed by Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element", "The Professional".) While that fact wasn't going to sell the film to the families that were its target audience, the ads could have hooked in a few older Besson fans who were interested to see what the filmmaker could do with a partially animated family adventure.
The film stars Freddie Highmore ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Finding Neverland") as Arthur, a kid living in a lovely little country house with his grandmother (Mia Farrow). However, times are difficult and the bank is about to foreclose on grandma's house. Arthur's adventurer grandpa reportedly buried a treasure in the yard, but grandma has had no success trying to locate it.
Arthur thinks he can find it, and he seeks out the Minimoys, a tribe of elves that his grandfather befriended. Working from instructions he's uncovered, Arthur manages to shrink himself down to the (animated) world of the Minimoys, who look a little like troll dolls. With the help of a Minimoy named Betameche (Jimmy Fallon) and his sister, Princess Selenia (Madonna) to try and defeat the evil M (David Bowie!) in order to get the treasure and save the world of the Minimoys, not to mention the house.
"Arthur and the Invisibles" offers some rather impressive animation for a smaller project and the film has certainly lined up a pretty good cast, including Highmore, Chazz Palmentari, Robert Deniro, Harvey Keitel, Farrow and Bowie. Strangely, Madonna and Jimmy Fallon make a rather agreeable comedy duo as the brother/sister characters bicker back-and-forth throughout their journey. Bowie also does a fine job chewing on virtual scenery as the villain.
"Arthur" is a good-hearted little movie with some reasonably exciting action scenes and fine performances. However, there's some concerns, such as the fact that, while the film manages some fine action scenes, the tension never really builds much due to the fact that the story's pretty predictable and some of the dialogue - especially from Deniro's character - is rather clunky. There's also the uneasiness of Madonna's Minimoy character (who's supposed to be a teenager, but still sounds like Madonna) kind of falling for Highmore's.
Still, some minor issues aside, "Arthur and the Invisibles" stands as a brisk, sweet little adventure for kids.
VIDEO: "Arthur and the Invisibles" is presented by the Weinstein Company/Genius Products in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a pan & scan edition is also available.) This is a sleek, striking presentation of the live-action/animated film. Sharpness and detail remained quite pleasing throughout both animated and live-action footage, with very fine details often clearly visible. The presentation showed no instances of artifacting and only a couple of slight instances of edge enhancement. No print flaws or other concerns were seen. Colors looked warm and bright, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation offers a reasonably entertaining audio experience, with mild surround use for effects during the action scenes. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue and crisp effects. While this wasn't a stunning presentation, it did the job well enough.
EXTRAS: Featurette on the voice cast, trailer, 2 music videos, "In the Recording Studio With Jewel" featurette and game promo.
Final Thoughts: While not without some flaws, "Arthur and the Invisibles" stands as a brisk, sweet little adventure for kids. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality, as well as a few minor extras. Rent it.