DVD Release Date: May 15, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: January 12, 2007 (wide)
Rating: PG (for fantasy action and brief suggestive material)
Genre: Animated Family/Drama
Run Time: 102 min.
Director: Luc Besson
Actors: Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow, Madonna, Jimmy Fallon, Ron Crawford, Penny Balfour, Douglas Rand, Adam LeFevre, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Snoop Dogg, David Bowie, Emilio Estevez

Ten-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is spending the summer with his grandmother (Mia Farrow) on her farm in rural Connecticut, while his parents (Penny Balfour and Douglas Rand) look for work in the city.  It’s 1960, and Arthur’s grandfather (Ron Crawford), a faithful engineer who once served the needy in Africa, is gone, having mysteriously disappeared several years ago.  He left behind his books and inventions, however, which fascinate Arthur for hours on end.  Fortunately, his grandmother also enjoys regaling Arthur with tales of her husbands’ exploits, especially his travels to the land of the Minimoys, right in their backyard, where he swears to have buried a stash of rubies.

When a self-serving real estate developer (Adam LeFevre) threatens to take the farm, Arthur goes on the hunt for his grandfather and the treasure.  He deciphers a strange code, follows the instructions left on the map and, with the help of the African tribe who gave his grandfather the rubies, travels down a telescope into a miniature kingdom of the Minimoys.  The telescope shrinks Arthur, however, to the size of a small insect.  It also transforms him into an animated character that looks like a cross between Billy Idol and Don King.

Down in the grass, under the ground where the Minimoys live, Arthur meets the Minimoy king (Robert De Niro) and his daughter, Princess Selenia (Madonna).  Selenia is convinced that she is not only the heir to the throne, but also the one who has been designated to save her people.  Alas, she cannot pull the Arthurian sword from the stone.  But when they are suddenly invaded by the flying mosquito soldiers of The Evil Maltazar (David Bowie), Arthur retracts the sword and saves the day.  He then leads Selenia and her brother, Betameche (Jimmy Fallon) to find the rubiesand straight into the lair of Maltazar, who is waiting to kill them.  During their journey they share a drink with a Rastafarian bar owner (Snoop Dogg) and engage in plenty of antics.  The only problem is, the clock is ticking.  Arthur has but 48 hours to not only save his farm, but also return to normal size, lest he stay with the Minimoys for ten more months, during which he will be forced to watch the farm bulldozed and replaced by condos.

Writer/director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) developed this script from two of his children’s books, which moves rather effortlessly between live action and animation. This is his first attempt at CGI, however, so while it’s not terrible, it’s also not particularly inspired, either.  We’ve seen it done far better in many films, from The Dark Crystal to Antz.  However, the bigger problem is the subject matter itself, which is an unoriginal hodgepodge of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Camelot and Harry Potter, to name just a few.  The plot arc is shaky, and Besson seems to have haphazardly thrown it all together.  Hardly anything makes sense.

Most of the characters are one-dimensional and, surprisingly, the voiceovers of this all-star cast (which reportedly cost the filmmaker millions) bring very little to their roles.  Madonna whines.  Fallon annoys. Even De Niro, Keitel and Estevez sound like they’re sleepwalking.  And Snoop Dogg, who has really proven himself in recent years, is simply flat. The only person who stands out among the cast is Bowie, who is both funny and creepy as the evil Maltazar.

The best part about the film is the live action—especially the opening sequences with Farrow, which are beautifully filmed and arrestingly set.  The only problem is that the sets seem far more like the 1950s than the 1960s—save for the scenes with Arthur’s parents, which seem straight out of the Depression era.  Farrow does a lovely job with her role, however, and it’s wonderful to see her onscreen.  So does Highmore, who is quite engaging when he’s doing live action.  Unfortunately, these few scenes are not enough to save the film. 

The message, though subtle, is the usual one about kids being able to do great things and parents who are clueless and incompetent.  Less subtle is the film’s New Age spirituality, which has characters describing the “Yin and the Yang,” a Buddhist concept, and saying, “May the spirits of the ancients go with you.”  At one point, the grandfather insists that the only thing that can save them is prayer, because they need a miracle, implying that this is clearly a means of last resort.  But no one prays—and the miracle happens anyway, which seems to say that it’s all about fate anyway.  There is no mention of God, and the adults all seem hopelessly inept, which is a constant and very negative refrain in most children’s films.

It was also extremely disturbing to think about a 48-year-old woman (Madonna) falling in love with a 10-year-old boy (Highmore), as their characters do. And, who decided to make Princess Selenia look like she works the streets?  For a children’s movie? 

In the end, Arthur and the Invisibles is really only a film that kids (mostly young boys), could love.  But not those who are too young, lest they be scared; not those who are too old, lest they be bored; and not those who are too impressionable, lest they be . . . stirred.

AUDIENCE:  School-aged children and up

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Featured: The Voices of Arthur and the Invisibles
  • Featured: The Making of Arthur and the Invisibles
  • Music Vide “Quest for Love” by Jewel
  • Music Vide “Beautiful Day” by Elijah
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Trailer from the Make Your Own Arthur and the Invisibles Movie Mash-Up Game

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Adult character takes “sleeping drops” at night then, after an accident, drinks the entire bottle and passes out.  Characters consume a strange green juice which gives them a jolt and causes them to want to dance.
  • Language/Profanity: The Lord’s name is taken in vain a few times.
  • Religion: Various references to New Age type spirituality, including teaching like “Nature always balances itself with the opposite, which is called the Yin and the Yang” and the blessing, “May the spirits of the ancients guide you.”
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: A 1000-year-old female character voiced by Madonna has large breasts, curvaceous hips and wears extremely suggestive clothing.  She also falls in love with a 10-year-old boy.
  • Violence: Animated violence including threats to kill characters and annihilate entire populations; several characters have been kidnapped; other characters are slaves; numerous fights in which lives of animated characters are endangered; various dismemberment and/or amputations (without blood) during fights.