Directed by: Luc Besson
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Madonna, Jimmy Fallon, Mia Farrow
Parental Notes: This is a fairly innocuous kids movie. It has some flaws and very little character development, but should be entertaining for kids who just want to see a new fantasy Adults may want to skip it.
There is a certain charm to kids’ movies, the ones that don’t bother pandering to adults. They require at least as little mental effort as a standard action movie, but are a lot more relaxing. They aren’t as clever or entertaining as, say, “Shrek,” but they’re fun in the way that blowing the seeds off a dandelion is fun — for very little effort you get to watch a variation on something you’ve seen plenty of times before. Just don’t think about it too hard or you’ll realize that dandelion seeds turn into more weeds.
“Arthur and the Invisibles” is based on the children’s book “Arthur et les Minimoys,” by Luc Besson. Besson is a director, writer, and producer, so it’s no surprise that he has turned his book into a film. The story is very straightforward: ten-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore) has two days to find a treasure hidden by his grandfather in the tiny kingdom of the faerie-like Minimoys. If he fails, his grandmother’s farm, where he lives, will be repossessed by the bank.
The world of the Minimoys, which can only be entered every tenth full moon, is created in amazing detail with computer graphics. It is a testament to how far this art has come that the CGI portion of the film does not jar with the real-life portion of the film. The Minimoys, who are “no bigger than a tooth,” welcome Arthur and he winds up with Princess Selenia (voiced by Madonna) and Prince Betameche (voiced by Jimmy Fallon) as companions as he travels to the stronghold of the evil Maltazard (voiced by David Bowie) to try and reclaim his grandfather’s treasure.
Arthur and his companions face a wide variety of challenges as they traverse the world of the Minimoys — which is actually Arthur’s back yard, seen from a new perspective now that he’s tiny. They ride mosquitoes, are launched through the air in a capsule made from a walnut, and escape a flood by driving Arthur’s tiny windup car. The various characters are entertaining, their larger-than-life attributes amusing and likely to generate smiles from kids in the audience.
Arthur is a typical children’s story hero: young, courageous, a bit strong-headed, and determined to save the day at all costs. Young Highmore does a top-notch job in his live-action scenes, and is a competent voice over artist for the scenes in the world of the Minimoys.
Princess Selenia is something of an enigma; at different times during the film we’re told she’s nearly an adult and that she’s the same age as Arthur. She has the body of a teenager, the attitude of a ten-year-old, and the voice of forty-something star Madonna. All these incongruities are irrelevant to the story: Selenia, like her brother Betameche, is essentially there as part of the scenery to help Arthur complete his mission.
The folks in the live-action portion of the film are likewise undeveloped. Arthur’s parents are far away in the city looking for work. His grandmother (the wonderful Mia Farrow) is loving and at times a bit cranky, but that is all we know about her. For those accustomed to looking for something approaching character development, this gets annoying fairly quickly.
Overall, however, “Arthur and the Invisibles” is a charming, lightweight film that will likely amuse children and those willing to turn off their analytical minds for a couple of hours. If nothing else, it should help pass the time until the next “Shrek” comes out.