Dir: Luc Besson, Pierre Buffin. Fr. 2006. 102mins.
French producer-director Luc Bessonhits most of the right buttons with ArthurAnd The Invisibles (Arthur Et Les Minimoys as it is known inFrance), an engagingly imaginative computer animation and live-actionchildren's saga about a young boy's search for treasure in a kingdom ofLilliputian creatures.
Five years in the making, andwith a final price tag of $85m-plus, Arthuropened in Paris on Nov 29 with an exclusive two-week engagement at the 3,200-seatGrand Rex, Europe's biggest auditorium. The venue usually reserves itspre-Christmas showcase for the latest animation feature from Disney, but in theabsence of an attraction from the animation giant this year opted for Besson's feature (the Grand Rex run is still through BVI).
Nationally, Arthur looks set to clean up when itopens on 1,000-plus screens from Dec 13. While rival animations Flushed Away (Nov 29) and Happy Feet (Dec 6) are also fighting forthe family audience, Arthur hasbetter inbuilt audience awareness; Besson's fourbooks, which have been translated into 34 languages, have sold one million-plusat home alone
Further afield,returns are likely to be comparatively softer,although Besson has something of a following in Japan(some of Arthur's stylingsseem loosely reminiscent of anime). In the US, where the Weinstein Companygives the film limited release from Dec 15 (wide from Jan 12), the books have amuch lower profile, although the name voice cast and New England setting mayoffer some compensations.
Based on a concept anddesigns by French comic strip artist Patrice Garcia, the film, shot in English,opens in live-action mode. Arthur (Highmore) is a young boy who lives in a 1960ssmall New England homestead with his loving grandmother (Farrow), whoseexplorer husband, Archibald (Crawford), disappeared on an expedition. Grandmastuffs her grandchild's mind with images from grandad'sprivate notebooks, which are full of the Minimoys, miniaturebeings who live in the grounds of the house in harmony with nature.
When a real estate developermoves in to gain possession of the land and evict granny, Arthur realises theironly hope is to find the fabled treasure buried somewhere in the miniaturekingdom.
Though not Besson at his best, the long live-action opening sectionworks well enough as an expository springboard for Arthur's eventual ritualiseddescent into the marvellous grassroots world of the Minimoys,where he takes on the size and elfin features of his hosts.
The adventure properlybegins once Arthur is joined by the winsome redheaded Princess Selenia (voiced by Farmer here and Madonna in theEnglish-track version) as they race to find the treasure in the netherworldruled over by the evil Malthazard (Bashung/Bowie), who is plotting to flood and destroy the Minimoy kingdom.
Besson draws ingeniously on a wide variety of cultureinfluences for narrative and visuals, splendidly realised by French CGanimation maestro Pierre Buffin and photographed byThierry Arbogast. There are many literary andcultural references, as is expected now in big-budget family animation, fromKing Arthur to Jules Verne, Fritz Lang's Mto nature documentary Microcosmos, keeping adult audiences happy.
Besson and Buffin conceiveArthur, Selenia and the other Minimoysas adorable doll-like heroes with big manga-styleeyes while the baneful mosquito-riding creatures of Malthazard'srealm reflect the more sophisticated imagery of such fantasy classics as Dark Crystal.
The film also scores on anumber of marvellously funny secondary characters and setpieces,including a wacky scene in a rapper's discotheque; and a charming finale whenthe main characters (including Besson, who has hintedArthur may be his last directorialouting, in Minimoy makeover) bow to the audience.
Technical credits arefirst-rate down the line, including an engaging score by long-time Besson collaborator Eric Serra.
Pierre-Ange Le Pogam
from and original idea by Patrice Garcia
Buf Compagnie (Pierre Buffin)
Robert De Niro