ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLESPG
You'd think that simple storytelling and colorful visuals would make filmmakers ideal for writing children's books, but as M. Night Shyamalan proved earlier this year, it ain't necessarily so. Luc Besson's 2002 book Arthur et les minimoys and its 2003 sequel Arthur et la cité interdite (published in the U.S. later as Arthur and the Minimoys and Arthur and the Forbidden City) met with less-than-stellar reviews from the likes of School Library Journal and Booklist, and if they're anything like this dual-adaptation animated feature, it's easy to see why. Baldly derivative of everything from King Arthur (there's a sword in a stone), The Dark Crystal (whose character designs it heavily "borrows" from), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers ("funny" foot soldiers) and more, this story of a boy shrunk to insect size who has adventures in a royal-court world follows hard on the six-legged heels of The Ant Bully--itself based on a children's book written three years before Besson's.
The live-action opening finds ten-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore) living on a farm in Connecticut with his unnamed grandmother (Mia Farrow). It's 1960, and his adventurer grandpa Archibald has been missing for four years. Now a developer (Adam LeFevre) has bought up the mortgage from the bank, and like Snidely Whiplash in a white linen suit, he plans to evict dear old Granny and precocious kiddie in just two days. Arthur, deciding the only thing that can save the farm is a cache of rubies given Grandpa by a grateful African tribe, suddenly figures out the hidden code Archibald had left that directs him to where the gems have been hidden. Arthur's parents (who like him have British accents, though Grandma doesn't) need to work shift jobs in some unspecified city, so they can't be with him on his birthday. Yet despite all this economic hardship, Arthur says he just spent a year at boarding school in England. Huh?
The magic that makes Arthur mini is relatively plausible in comparison, though the setup is sludgy and unsuspenseful and, hey kids, has a plot turn involving a drug overdose. Once in the land of the "Minimoys," the now computer-animated Arthur pulls a vaguely defined "power sword" from a stone. This wins him the respect of the king (voice of Robert De Niro), the admiration of young prince and comic-relief sidekick Betameche (Jimmy Fallon), and the annoyance of the princess (Madonna), who's due to succeed her father in two days. The trio journey across the lawn to get the rubies from the evil Maltazard (voice of David Bowie), and the whole thing gets seriously creepy when the grown-up, pinup-beauty princess and the ten-year-old boy fall for each other. Mary Kay Letourneau comes uncomfortably to mind. Ewww.
Things unfold in rote fashion, with nature-based gadgetry no more clever than those of The Flintstones. The French studio's CGI is steps below its American counterpart, with many characters looking waxy and moving stiffly. Artist Patrice Garcia, who designed the look of Besson's The Fifth Element, is credited as creator of "the universe" (their words) from which the four-book series springs, but whatever characters here that don't look like Gelflings from The Dark Crystal or Fraggles from "Fraggle Rock" look like Cabbage Patch Kids. One humanoid character inexplicably has a son who looks like a mole. It all simply looks as if Garcia and Besson couldn't decide on any one thing to copy, so they copied them all.