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Jan 15, 2007

Fletch's Film Review: Arthur and the Invisibles

It's pretty rare that a "name" director works on an animated film, unless he or she happens to be named Tim Burton. Sure, there's John Lasseter (the Toy Story series, A Bug's Life, Cars), but he made his name with feature-length animation, and has made no features that aren't animated. So for Luc Besson, acclaimed director of La Femme Nikita, The Professional (Leon), and The Fifth Element, to make a half-and-half (animated/live action) film, that's something that should pique your interest.

His film, Arthur and the Minimoys (dumbed down to Arthur and the Invisibles for American audiences) is a kind of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids for the 21st century, with better acting and (obviously) better special effects. Unlike the Rick Moranis starring film from 1989, however, the "shrunken" portion of this film is computer-animated, with a look and feel that can best be described as Honey... mixed with Besson's own Fifth Element (pay particular attention to the first group of "bad guys" that you see - they eerily resemble the alien thugs from Element. Even more impressive than Besson's foray into animation, however, was the original foray outside celluloid for this project - namely, that Arthur and gang first starred in a 2002 children's book (ad a 2004 sequel), written by Besson.

The story itself is nothing groundbreaking (grandson goes on a treasure quest to find hidden jewels to save Granny's house), but is done justice with excellent pacing and sharp casting. Freddie Highmore plays the live-action Arthur (and voices him as well), with Mia Farrow dropping by to play his grandmother. As for the voice talent, the producers went all-out, nabbing Robert DeNiro, Madonna, David Bowie, Snoop Dogg, Harvey Keitel, Jimmy Fallon, amongst others. Luckily, unlike some animated films where the actors personalities take over their animated counterparts, here the characters are as they stand, getting merely helped by some recognizable voices. Nice for a change. Also lending a hand is an almost Pulp Fiction-like soundtrack, featuring a number of the songs from that film, along with a contribution or two by Bowie and Snoop Dogg. Despite the films 50s/60s-ish setting (they never give a specific date), the modern songs work within the context of their use.

Coupled with Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this is another high point for Highmore (pardon the pun). Though 12 when this was filmed, Freddie soon turns 15 - time will tell if his career is meant to go beyond the level of "child star." For now though, Highmore, Besson and all the rest can take pride in the knowledge that they have made a kids/pre-teens adventure that should definitely age well over time.

80 out of 100

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