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With: Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow, (voices) Madonna, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Bowie, Jimmy Fallon, Chazz Palminteri, Emilio Estevez, Snoop Dogg, Anthony Anderson, Jason Bateman, Ronald Crawford, Erik Per Sullivan
Written by: Luc Besson
Directed by: Luc Besson
MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy action and brief suggestive material
Running Time: 94
Date: 11/29/2006
IMDB

Arthur and the Invisibles (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Shrinky-Dinks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Luc Besson's new Arthur and the Invisibles succeeds because it has the nerve to show up half-assed, like a misshapen factory reject. Unlike the soulless, professionally polished CGI-animated kids' movies that dominated 2006 (Over the Hedge, The Ant Bully, Cars, Barnyard, Flushed Away), it has the feel of human handprints on it, as if actual people made it.

Still, we're not talking Hayao Miyazaki here. The film certainly has its share of problems. It apparently cost a bundle, and that money is nowhere to be seen on screen. The action sequences move too fast, perhaps in an effort to cover up the film's lack of smoothness. During moments of calm, the characters chatter too much, and plot details can get lost. And the screenplay shamelessly borrows ideas from King Arthur, Harry Potter and a dozen other pop culture sources.

The difference between Arthur and the Invisibles and its more sophisticated cousins is that, rather than desperately trying to please its fickle audience and teach them a lesson at the same time, it leaves the distinct impression that it's out to have fun. This is no committee-engineered product designed to boost first-quarter profits; Besson actually wants to be here. (His voice cast, which includes Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Chazz Palminteri, Emilio Estevez, Snoop Dogg and Anthony Anderson, clearly doesn't mind joining him.)

The film begins with a live-action sequence: Arthur (Freddie Highmore) and his grandmother (Mia Farrow) are about to lose their farm unless Arthur can find the rubies his absent, explorer grandfather hid in the yard. So Arthur visits the land of the tiny yard-dwelling Minimoys, shrinking and becoming a spiky-haired CGI creature, to enlist their help. But first he must join Princess Selenia (voiced by Madonna) and her baby brother Betameche (voiced by Jimmy Fallon) in defeating resident bad guy Maltazard (voiced, in a very cool performance, by David Bowie), who plans to flood the Minimoy nation using technology that Arthur has unwittingly provided.

That technology involves drinking straws, which echoes the kind of low-rent ingenuity at work here. If Arthur and the Invisibles had been all live-action, it could be compared with kooky, scrappy and slightly off-key films like The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), Time Bandits (1981) or Labyrinth (1986). These films don't have the perfect polish of Disney and other high profile family entertainments, but there's something refreshing about coloring out of the lines.

(This review also appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly. See also my longer review at cinematical.com)

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