'Arthur' leaves viewers weary and wondering
The story and characters blur in the too-busy underground scenes.
By ROBERT W. BUTLER
KANSAS CITY STAR
French director Luc Besson -- best known for fantastic adult yarns like "La Femme Nikita," "The Fifth Element" and "The Professional" -- turns his attention to kiddie fare with "Arthur and the Invisibles," a mix of live-action and computer animation.
He only half-succeeds.
Besson's original story begins in the real world, where Arthur ("Finding Neverland's" Freddie Highmore) and his grandmother (Mia Farrow) live in an old farmhouse filled with exotic souvenirs collected by Arthur's globe-hopping grandpa. But gramps, a tireless adventurer, has been missing for years, leaving behind notebooks of his journeys to fantastic realms.
With a greedy businessman threatening to foreclose on the house, Arthur decides to retrace his grandfather's steps, a trek that involves being shrunken to the size of a fingernail and injected into the kingdom of the Minimoys, tiny creatures who live beneath grandma's garden.
At this point "Arthur and the Invisibles" shifts into 3-D computer animation. Arthur befriends a tomboyish (but still hot) princess (voiced by Madonna) and her bratty little brother (Jimmy Fallon), becomes a warrior for the bumbling Minimoy king (Robert De Niro) and leads the fight against an evil lord (David Bowie) threatening to eliminate the Minimoys.
The opening live-action sequence is enjoyable enough, thanks to the interplay among Highmore, Farrow and an amazing canine performer cast as the family dog.
But though the characters have been imaginatively designed (imagine the elaborate puppets of Jim Henson's "The Dark Crystal," only this time rendered in flawless 3-D computer animation), the film's underground scenes are so busy that it's almost impossible to follow the story or focus on the characters. The results are more wearying than exciting. Only Bowie's bad guy really grabs our interest.
Apparently Besson became so enamored with CG animation's possibilities that he forgot basic rules -- such as the one about animation thriving on clear-cut, distinctive characters whose personalities are established in the first few seconds they're onscreen.