Arthur and the Invisibles (Luc Besson, 2006)
French Title: Arthur et les Minimoys
The English title is actually very misleading; there are no invisible creatures in Luc Besson's live action-animation hybrid Arthur and the Invisibles. Instead, there are creatures called Minimoys --- ant-sized elf-like critters who were transported from their native Africa by an intrepid explorer-inventor, missing grandfather of titular Arthur (Freddie Highmore). The Minimoys have built a sort of underground civilization complete with a monarchist government (with its accompanying bumbling king (voiced by Robert de Niro), overly enthusiastic heiress-princess (voiced by Madonna), and annoying and practically useless prince (voiced by Jimmy Fallon)), and a rival evil kingdom ruled by deformed and disfigured Maltazard (voiced by David Bowie).
Arthur, through a telescope-like contraption and with the help of some tall, surprisingly English-fluent tribesmen, shrinks himself to save the Minimoy kingdom, find his grandfather's rubies to pay off his family's debts, and discover love in the person of the Minimoy princess. The subterranean world of the Minimoys is an idea we've already seen before; the underground caverns of our familiar homes have already been home to plenty of cinematic mysterious creatures (just last year, computer animated The Ant Bully (John Davis, 2006) hypothesized a community of insects who are out to teach a kid a lesson; Antz (Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson, 1998) felt more sophisticated). Besson, at least, tries to actually develop his own microscopic civilization (he wrote the series of children's books that the film was adapted from) with a distinct cultural identity rather than mere microcosms of the above-ground human world. Sadly, it turns out that Besson's imaginative creation is mostly redundant children's fare, and has no dreams of transcending to Miyazaki realm (more substantial family fun).
There's also something very bothersome about the film. At first, I thought the tepidness of the film was a result of the substandard writing but when the end credits start rolling, and I get reminded that the princess is voiced by Madonna, and the kid is Highmore, I suddenly got goosebumps. Of course, there's a difficulty in establishing a convincing romantic angle between a kid actor and a married forty-plus actress (even if they're just voice overs). However, in this case, the forced rapport between the two performers turn what could've been witty or deep verbal exchanges between the characters into bland and discomforting tirades.
Mia Farrow (who rarely gets work nowadays) plays Highmore's grandmother. Decades after her turn as haunted mother in Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), she actually pulls off a lovely performance as the kid's proxy mother figure. Sadly, she's just one of the few positive things to say about this Besson film. The computer animation, at first, was actually quite impressive. Besson has a knack for creating visually rich alternate universes and he does not fail us in this regard. However, after the initial wonder (which I thought was a mere aftereffect of the unremarkable live-action cinematography thus, the excitement when my eyes were treated to something colorful and vibrant), everything becomes drab; the elfish character designs do not astound; the locales are at times stunning but are not enough to sustain an entire feature. If you're looking for kid-friendly adventure, look elsewhere. Not even David Bowie's presence (or at least his aural presence) can save this shtick from the dumping ground of forgettable fantasy flicks.