Arthur and the Invisibles

Movie Information

Genre: Animated Adventure Fantasy
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow, Penny Balfour, David Bowie, Madonna
Rated: PG

I gaze over the crop of bad reviews for Luc Besson’s Arthur and the Invisibles and find that I really can’t argue with almost any of the complaints lodged against the film. The film is almost insultingly derivative, borrowing with wild abandon from such mismatched sources as Stuart Little (1999) and every Harry Potter movie (an arch villain whose name no one — except the hero — dares speak aloud?) — not to mention The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Dark Crystal (1982), a few touches of Tim Burton and a soundtrack that might be more at home on a Quentin Tarantino picture (in fact, some of it has been). To be kind, it’s a bit of a mess — like something cobbled together by a kid who’s desperately trying to ape all the movies he thinks are “really cool.”

The voice casting is another problem. It’s not just that the film’s French pedigree and its international cast cause some pretty dicey synchronization problems. The crux of the problem is the fact that most of the high-profile voice talent is uninspired. Among the big names on the English language version, David Bowie, Snoop Dogg and Anthony Anderson come off pretty well, and Madonna isn’t disgracefully bad, but she is inessential. Jimmy Fallon, on the other hand, is annoying (probably because he’s Jimmy Fallon). However, the bulk of the pricier names — Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Chazz Palminteri, Emilio Estevez, Jason Bateman — give performances that could have been done by just about anyone. And that might have been better.

All of these points are noted in the many bad reviews. And yet, there’s a kind of loopy charm to it all. That sense of a kid copying bits and pieces of “really cool” movies seeps over into the film in a good way. Besson may be close to plagiarism, and he may be wrongheaded a lot of the time, but he’s ended up with a movie that you can’t help but feel he wanted to make. This isn’t just the crummy CGI-animated movie of the week, done to cash in on a family market that seems willing to sit still for almost any rubbish that’s tossed out. No, whatever its flaws, Arthur and the Invisibles has a handmade, personal feel that finally affords it a cockeyed endearing quality.

The live-action scenes — set in a vaguely early 1960s never-never time — are both quaint and visually creative. (Besson seems to have endless enthusiasm for cleverly devised shots.) Plus, the performances from Freddie Highmore as Arthur and Mia Farrow as his grandmother are very good. But more, it’s Besson’s casual acceptance of the most absurd notions that makes it work. (Just wait till a group of Masai tribesmen show up to help transport Arthur down a telescope to the animated land of the Minimoy so he can find his grandfather’s treasure and save the old homestead.)

Unfortunately, the animated scenes are rarely more than OK, no matter how fantasticated they look. The only exception to this is a stunningly strange sequence atop a giant phonograph record where the animated Arthur has a sort of dance-off with the bad guys. The animated parts lack the odd juxtapositions of the movie’s live-action scenes. Besson’s film may only take flight in fits and starts, but it’s a darn sight more interesting than most of the family fare out there. Rated PG for fantasy action and brief suggestive material.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “Arthur and the Invisibles

  1. javier delgado

    I live in Mexico, i went to see this film, an my family enjoyed very much, and as soon as we get the DVD we bought it, and now is the favourite of my daughters. So i was surprised at the bad review by english lnaguage critics (in most counteris the critics are entusiastics).

    After looking at the Wikipedua and imdb, i found the film ha been cut donw in 10 minutes and half the plot in the English version.

    So far this is the biggest european animation proyect and it deserves a better look. In europe it was a hit, just in France it got four time the box office of th US… And it interesting to note that only in the US the film was cut.

    So.. some of what the US viewer did not saw:

    Selenia is going to be the Queen of minimoys in two days. A requisite is that she must be married, to insure that her children succed her when they get her age (1000 minimoy years= 10 human years). Maltazhar has been waiting for years for this moment. No only to be the ruler of the minimoys, but becasue the first kiss of a princes has magic that can cure him. He tries to kidnape the princess.

    Arthur arrives in time to save the princes, thanks to hispure heart he can use the sword of power.

    He fall in love wiht Selenai at first sight. And while selenia it too proud , she is impressed.

    Selenia need to confront Maltazar, she new she esi aprt of the reason he wants to destroy the Minimoys.

    They got together and slowly Arthur wins Selenias heart. so before confronts Maltazar, she kiises artur, which means,she transfers her magic to Arthur, seals their marriage and turns Arhturn into the king of Minimoys.

    Maltazard capture Selenia, but when he knwos she is married, in his rage decids to kill her and destroy the minimoys…

    you may imagine the rest. This is a more interesting story than the US version…

    And curiously, is available in english in any of the international DVD version of the film. Since only the US edition is cut… I sugest give the films a second oportuninty… and see the full version.

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