Ever since Toy Story in 1995 the most popular family films have been computer-animated stories that have simultaneously appealed to both children and their parents. Pixar and Dreamworks have skilfully dominated this market with great success by continuing to make films that contain enough cultural references and cross-generational humour to keep all age groups entertained. Despite the pleasures that such films create it does seem a pity that there are a lack of films these days that are unashamedly made for children (and the inner child within many adults). The 1980s saw the release of many magical films that were aimed solely at children of all ages and it seems that with Arthur and the Invisibles Luc Besson has attempted to recreate the mood of these films.
In terms of production design, narrative and atmosphere Arthur and the Invisibles certainly evokes classics such as The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story and Labyrinth. The blend of live action with computer animation even recalls Lionel Jeffries’ The Water Babies from 1978 where live action was combined with traditional animation to indicate the passage from the real world of adult authority to a fantasy world. Unfortunately the comparisons with all of these films do not work in Besson’s favour.
The increasing annoying Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) plays 10-year-old Arthur who travels to the tiny land of the Minimoys. Arthur must find a hidden treasure so that his grandmother can make the necessary payments to prevent her farm being repossessed by a greedy developer. The live action scenes at the beginnings of Arthur and the Invisibles are actually the best part of the film partly because Mia Farrow is wonderful as Arthur’s Grandmother and because Besson takes his time to set-up the scenario and the characters. Once Arthur enters Minimoy all attempts to establish characters and motivation are quickly dispensed with as the audience is thrown into a bunch of inexplicable sequences that follow a logic that is never adequately shared with the audience.
Arthur is very quickly teamed up with Princess Selenia (unremarkably voiced by Madonna) but not before Besson establishes that despite being heir to the throne and apparent all round tough girl, Selenia is fairly useless. On the other hand Arthur masters the miniature world of the Minimoy’s remarkably quickly to become the real hero who is adored by all. Needless to say the gender politics are awful and more blatantly so than usual for this type of film.
Although the world of Arthur and the Invisibles is rendered beautifully the troll-doll-like Minimoys are incredibly ugly to look at. This combined with the serious lack of characterisation makes it very hard to give a damn about what happens to them. The voice actors do not help either and Robert De Niro in particular as the King of Minimoy sounds incredibly bored. Snoop Dogg provides some brief amusement as smooth talking Max, an unmistakable parody of African American culture that would not be out of place in a Chappelle’s Show sketch. However it is arguable that racially stereotyped caricatures may not be suitable in a film aimed at 10 year olds. The only real delight is David Bowie who obviously has a lot of fun being outrageously wicked as the voice of the evil Maltazard.
With The Fifth Element Besson was arguably successful in making a film that appealed to adolescent males but his attempt in making a family film is a failure. There is very little that adults will find enjoyable in Arthur and the Invisibles and frankly kids deserve better too.