Luc Besson, best known for his futuristic thriller “The Fifth Element,” takes a stab at computer-animated fare with “Arthur and the Invisibles,” a part live-action, part CGI affair based on his children’s storybook series about Arthur and the tiny world of the Minimoys.
The resulting film is slightly uneven and at times borrows way too overtly from other pieces of pop culture. It is, however, one of the more creative pieces of family focused, computer-animated storytelling seen in recent years — an unusual sci-fi entry in a genre typically filled with zany cartoon comedies.
Arthur (Freddie Highmore) is a real, living, breathing 10-year-old boy who lives with his grandmother (Mia Farrow) in a particularly brightly hued countryside. His grandfather went missing years ago, and his parents are alive but not around, for reasons not fully divulged.
One of Arthur’s favorite hobbies is reading his grandpa’s illustrated accounts of his African travels, which not only fuel the youngster’s imagination, but may also help decipher the secrets of this elder relative’s disappearance.
When his family is threatened with eviction due to dwindling bank accounts, Arthur decides to enter a mysterious miniature land also detailed in the journals: the realm of the Minimoys, where a hidden treasure promises to remedy his family’s money troubles. (Who knows? He might even stumble onto his long-lost grandpa.)
Once transformed into a computer-animated version of himself and reduced to the Minimoys’ size (and looking a lot like one of those troll dolls), Arthur encounters a colorful crew, including Betameche (Jimmy Fallon), Princess Selenia (Madonna) and their father, the King (Robert De Niro).
This diminutive community needs Arthur’s help as well, as an evil leader named Maltazard (David Bowie) is plotting to destroy their peaceful land.
As Arthur embarks on his mutually beneficial quest to save the day, it’s like he’s walking through a Hollywood movie lot, set by set. There’s a scene that’s almost identical (intentionally or not) to “The Ant Bully,” one that mimics the dance sequences of “Pulp Fiction,” and a generic attempt at urban hipness with Snoop Dogg’s vocal cameo as a chilled-out club owner.
But wait, there’s more: David Bowie as the bad guy recalls Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” (in which the actor also did villainous work) and “The Dark Crystal,” and a smattering of out-of-place, hoping-to-be-contemporarily-clever jokes throughout the flick seem like they fell off the pages of a Dreamworks or Pixar script.
Mr. Besson gets credit for the unique aspects of the film — mostly the nice sci-fi fairy tale vibe so seldom explored in kid-friendly CGI. It’s romantic, vivid and imaginative. But the film suffers from attention-deficit disorder, failing to commit to its own already dual reality, and thus, becomes fractured.
Children who are more into “Narnia” than “Nemo” will likely appreciate Mr. Besson’s effort the most. Adults, on the other hand, may just feel inspired to dust off the movies from which “Arthur” draws.
TITLE: “Arthur and the Invisibles”
RATING: PG (some mild peril and slightly violent scenes)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Luc Besson based on his book series, originally inspired by Celine Garcia.
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
WEB SITE: www.arthur-movie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS