Arthur and the Invisibles (PG) (live-action/CGI)
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Well, this is based on books by French filmmaker Luc Besson, which I haven't read. But I've been wanting to see this for awhile, basically because I really liked the look of the animation, from what I'd seen online. And seeing it in a theater, I loved the animation even more, and I think it's probably the best part of the movie. (Because of that, I originally put my review under "animated films," but later decided to move it to "fantasy.") Anyway, I thought the movie was enjoyable enough, reasonably fun and amusing. Just not really great. (I definitely thought it was better than most critics seemed to.) It starts with live-action, to set up the plot, and I felt that went on a bit too long (about a third of the film), but I didn't really mind.
The movie is set in 1960. It's about a boy named Arthur (Freddie Highmore), who's just turned 10. He lives with his grandmother, Daisy (Mia Farrow), out in the country, while his parents have gone to the city to look for work. His grandfather, Archibald, has been missing for like three years now. He spent some time in Africa, doing engineering work like building irrigation systems and so forth. He also befriended a tribe, the Bogo-Matassalai, who are fairly tall (about 8 feet, though when we see them, they really don't look that tall to me). And apparently nature balanced that out by also including a tribe of beings called the Minimoys (who are about 2 millimeters tall). So it doesn't seem exactly balanced to me, considering the Bogo-Matassalai were just... you know, kinda tall; seems like they'd have to be a few miles tall, to counterbalance the Minimoys. But whatever, that's not important. What's important is that the Bogo-Matassalai, to thank Archibald for his work, had given him a bunch of rubies. And he hid them in the Minimoy world, which he had found a way to enter (becoming a Minimoy himself), which is possible only once every 10 moons (i.e., months). (The Minimoys are CGI, and when a human becomes a Minimoy, he also goes from live-action to CGI.)
Arthur loved hearing stories about his grandfather, and he was a bit of a budding engineer himself, even constructing his own irrigation system to water radishes. Unfortunately, there's a land developer who has bought Arthur's family's debt from the bank, and they have a couple of days to pay it, otherwise he'll evict them and develop their property, destroying the garden where the Minimoys live (because Archibald had brought them over from Africa). So, now Arthur has to follow hidden messages his grandfather had left for him, to learn how to reach the Minimoy world himself, so he can search for the rubies, to pay off the debt. (Archibald had left three years ago to search for the rubies himself, which you'd think would be easy, considering he's the one who hid them in the first place. But there's a good reason he's been gone all this time.)
The first Minimoy Arthur meets is a young prince named Betameche (voiced by Jimmy Fallon), who's nearly 300 years old, but still a kid. His older sister, Princess Selenia (Madonna), will turn 1000 in a couple of days, and then she's supposed to assume leadership of the kingdom from her father. She's been trying to draw a magical sword from a stone, with no luck, but then when her people are attacked by evil warriors riding mosquitoes, soon after Arthur arrived to warn them of the threat from the land developer, Arthur ends up drawing the sword himself. Okay, that's clearly too "King Arthur," but whatever, it doesn't turn out to be a very important plot point. Selenia ended up using the sword after that, and Arthur never became king or anything.
Well, the warriors had been sent by someone named Maltazard (David Bowie), whom everyone referred to as the Evil M, because saying his name is supposed to bring bad luck. But Arthur kept forgetting and saying it, anyway. M used to be beloved by the Minimoys, apparently, though it's hard to say what the truth is. There was a scene where he was discussing his history with Selenia, and they each had a different version, but I found both interesting, somewhat tantalizing even. It had details I'd really like to learn more about, and I'd be happy to see a prequel someday that explored the story of how Maltazard the Good became Evil. But meanwhile, Selenia was on a mission to kill him, because he wanted to destroy her people, so that he could control all Seven Kingdoms, or whatever. And Arthur joined her, because the rubies were in M's kingdom of Necropolis. Betameche came along as well. He had a gadget he called a knife, which included all sorts of devices, kind of like a Swiss army knife, though it looked to me more like a Tinker Toy wheel, or something. And it had stuff like flowers and bubbles in it as well as seemingly more useful items. Whatever, Betameche was mostly comic relief, anyway. I guess.
Arthur, it should be noted, had found Selenia beautiful since he first saw a drawing of her in his grandfather's sketch book, so he was happy to have a chance to meet her in person. And they would grow closer in the course of their adventure, though she didn't seem too happy about his showing up in the first place. As for their age difference, there was something about how they reckon their age that I didn't quite catch, but apparently by their reckoning she and Arthur would be about the same age. Except that I got the sense time moves at the same rate in both worlds. And she was never a child, but born as she is, which is odd because there are obviously both younger and older Minimoys. And she's clearly older than 10 in human terms. But then, Arthur was probably older than 10 in his Minimoy form, so whatever. And even in human form, the actor was like 14 I think.
Well, what else? The whole adventure seemed rather brief, and not everything made perfect sense to me. It was all kind of sketchy and could have done with more details, but I didn't mind much. (From what I've read online, it sounds like the American version had a lot cut out, so I'd like to see the original version, someday.) Nor did I mind that everything in the story was fairly derivative of any number of better things. It was still fun. And the humor... mostly seemed somewhat subtle to me, compared to many animated movies like this, and it seemed like there was less of it. And I liked that. (Mind you, the important phrase is compared to many animated movies like this.) I should also note that while there are several celebrities (actors as well as singers) providing voices, I somehow didn't recognize any of them (except Snoop Dogg), even though I'm perfectly familiar with them... so I didn't find that at all distracting. Anyway... I don't want to spoil how it ends, but there are no surprises. Happy ending all around. I enjoyed it, and I got the DVD. Personally I'd say the movie is worthwhile just to look at Selenia, but even if you're not into that... I dunno, you might like it anyway. Or not. Whatevs....
The story is continued in Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard, and concluded in Arthur 3: The War of Two Worlds.