(Published Feb. 4, 2007, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Sensibly pooling together recognizable fragments from Arthurian legends and classic children’s stories, “Arthur and the Invisibles” works as an eye-pleasing union between live-action and digital animation formats. They’re not seen on the screen simultaneously, but the two distinctly removed realms coexist well because suspension of disbelief makes the transition from one dimension to the other almost seamless.
In the “real” world, young and resourceful Arthur (Freddie Highmore) discovers the colorful journal of his grandfather, Archibald (Ron Crawford), while on vacation. Staying at his loving grandmother’s (Mia Farrow) place has been peaceful, until they’re suddenly threatened with eviction. The boy needs to find Archibald’s hidden stash of rubies that can pay their debts, lest his grandparents lose their place to a real estate developer.
Prior to leaving for an expedition, Archibald left clues that Arthur must decipher, and these soon lead him directly to some African tribesmen, who help him enter the secret community of the tiny, elf-like Minimoys.
That’s when the lushly animated scenes come in. Beneath the grandparents’ garden, these beings flourish, but they’re threatened by the malevolent Maltazard (voiced by David Bowie), and his mosquito-riding flunkies. Arthur gets involved, naturally, and must help the peaceful Minimoys figure out a way to defeat their would-be subjugators. Along the way and as expected, valuable hints to the location of his grandfather’s buried treasure are revealed.
Highmore, the lead kid actor from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” emphatically portrays two versions of the same character. In his scenes unadorned by effects, he warmly gives Arthur human dimension, while his transformed Arthur-Minimoy version allows him to tap into a more adventurous, playful side as a voice actor. The Minimoys are voiced by a noteworthy cast as well, which includes Robert De Niro (the wise old King), Madonna (the ill-tempered but brave Princess Selenia), and Jimmy Fallon (unrecognizable as the boy prince Betameche), among others. Directed by Luc Besson, no stranger to unrelenting action sequences and unearthly worlds, “Arthur and the Invisibles” speeds into a hazy quest that acquaints its viewers with every nook and cranny of its magical spaces.
While capturing that feeling of urgency, Arthur’s noble quest feels rushed when he’s in the cartoon world of the Minimoys. The boy quickly becomes a hero worthy of wielding the community’s enchanted, Excalibur-like sword, and becomes integral to putting an end to Maltazard’s sinister plans. Also, the attraction between Arthur and Selenia feels odd because of the obvious age gap. The Minimoys are centuries older than humans, even if they look pretty young. But if you don’t know that they’re being voiced by Madonna and Highmore, well, it might not matter much. Still, the animated versions look like they might make a nice-looking pair--someday.
“Arthur and the Invisibles” makes use of its fairy tale structure well, although some characters like Arthur’s absent parents-turned-treasure hunters (Penny Balfour and Doug Rand) later become two-dimensional, but not in the animated sense. However, just like their counterparts in many kids’ stories, they’re perfunctorily there but inconsequential.
As a whole, the Minimoys’ artistically conceived and executed world balances out the other reality, Arthur’s un-animated world, adding textured style to the more obvious message-driven substance. It’s a working symbiosis, the less overt themes of survival in different ecosystems and peaceful coexistence subtly attached to the bigger, louder, good-versus-evil drama.