I went in to Arthur and the Invisibles with incredibly low expectations. Sure it has sometimes loved French director Luc Besson’s name on it, but the character designs look like they were stolen from those wispy haired troll dolls that were popular for about five minutes fifteen years ago, and the plot sounded like it was written by a ten-year-old kid underneath a heavy bedspread with a big chief tablet and a pencil the size of a horse’s leg. But that’s alright, more often than not going into a movie with a healthy sense of dread can be a good thing. Low expectations often mean you’re leaving yourself plenty of room to be impressed. Sadly, that’s not the case here. Arthur lives up to and in some cases surpasses even my most pessimistic fantasies. It’s an animated train wreck, and if you show up to see it and sit through the whole thing, then you’re either a film critic forced to review it or you’ve found a way to simply go to sleep.
The film is a mix of live action and computer animation. The live action is colorful and well shot, with gifted child actor Freddie Highmore playing an imaginative grandson named Arthurt living with a lonely grandmother played by Mia Farrow. His grandfather disappeared several years ago, and granny Mia tells him that he left to journey to the secret land of the Minimoys, a tribe of millimeter tall people they discovered while spending their younger days adventuring in Africa. Everyone in the movie acts as if the Minimoys are just a bunch of stunted humans, but they’re the size of a pin head and look an awful lot like rejects from an Oddworld odyssey. There’s nothing “people” about them. It’s also unclear whether Granny is kidding, serious, or just plain crazy. It doesn’t help that Mia seems to think she’s in a horror movie. She delivers a creepy grandma performance while bright sunlight and happy, fantasy music light up the world around her. It’s confusing.
It soon turns out that, whether by accident or purpose, Grandma was telling the truth. To save their house from foreclosure, Arthur must journey to the magical, secret, miniature world of the Minimoys hidden under their garden to find his grandfather’s secret stash of rubies. Rather than just grabbing a spade and digging a hole in his grandma’s flowerbed, Arthur invokes some convenient magic mumbo jumbo to not only be shrunk but transformed into a Minimoy himself. Why merely shrinking himself wasn’t enough is never explained. The truth is that it’s simply because their animators couldn’t handle integrating a live action Freddie Highmore in with their already weak computer animated Minimoys and so it was a lot easier simply to zap him into a Minimoy as well.
It’s indicative of the entire script, where each step seems to be determined by what would be most convenient for whoever’s making the film, rather than what the personalities of the movie’s flimsy characters might demand. Some might excuse that by pointing out that this is a kids movie, and kids don’t notice much of that anyway. Slap a cartoon up on the screen and kids will stare at it for hours.
But if Arthur is really intended only for very young kids, then you have to wonder what the heck they were thinking with the film’s dialogue. Character dialogue is spoken as if Luc Besson had some sort of minimum word count requirement while writing it, and so whipped out a dictionary to pad every sentence with as many extraneous and irrelevant words as possible. Except when they got on set and tried to film it, someone realized that there was way too much dialogue and rather than paring it down to something that sounded a little more realistic, they simply instructed all the actors to speak their lines really really fast. Arthur tries to cram in 100 words where 10 will do, and then to make up for it rushes those 100 words in order to fit them into the same space where 10 should have gone. It’s five pounds of poo in a one pound bag.
The whole movie’s a mess. I’ve only touched on the animation here, but if you’ve seen the trailers or any of the posters you have to know it’s bad. Though perhaps it’s not fair to trash all the work done by the movie’s animation department. The character models and renders look like cheap knockoffs, but the backgrounds are actually well done and in some places, even a little bit beautiful. Of course that only makes the look they’ve given the Minimoys more ridiculous. Why bother with computer animated characters at all, when filming stop-motion troll dolls would have looked just as good.
Luckily for Arthur, even though it’s only mid-January we’ve already had Happily N’Ever After to save it from being labeled as the worst animated movies of the year. But by the time 2007 is said and done, let’s hope it ends up as one of the worst, otherwise we’re in for a long, long year.