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(2006) (Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: Hoping to find buried rubies to save his grandmother's farm, a young boy is transported into a miniature world where he must help a princess battle a villain.
It's Connecticut in the 1960s and Arthur (FREDDIE HIGHMORE) is an inquisitive and inventive boy who lives with his grandmother, Granny (MIA FARROW) while his parents work in a distant city. Arthur is enamored with the amazing expeditionary stories penned by his long-lost grandfather, Archibald (RON CRAWFORD), including when he discovered the Minimoys, a tribe of tiny people. Arthur gets his chance to meet them when a developer informs his grandmother that if she can't pay the bills, the farm will become his. Knowing that his grandfather wrote about African rubies he buried somewhere on their land, Arthur sets out to find them, a quest that leads to instructions about how to travel to the Seven Kingdoms of the Minimoys.

Racing against time, Arthur is miniaturized and ends up in their world that exists right there on their farm, with only 36 hours to find the rubies and return before the magical portal closes for the next 1,000 days. There, he meets the troll-like Minimoys, including Miro the wizard (voice of HARVEY KEITEL), the boyish but 300-year-old Betameche (voice of JIMMY FALLON), and his teenage-like sister Princess Selenia (voice of MADONNA) who will turn 1,000 in two days and thus replace her father, the King (voice of ROBERT De NIRO), as ruler of their land.

Her future rule depends on how she'll be able to deal with the evil Maltazard (voice of DAVID BOWIE) and his villainous son Darkos (voice of JASON BATEMAN) who rule over Necropolis, the forbidden kingdom. Maltazard wants to reign supreme over the other six kingdoms, but Arthur informs the Princess and everyone else that if he doesn't return with the missing rubies, Maltazard won't matter since all of their lands will be destroyed along with the family farm. Accordingly, Arthur, Princess Selenia and Betameche set out to find the stones, encountering colorful characters such as Rastafarian-like Max (voice of SNOOP DOGG) and Koolomassai (voice of ANTHONY ANDERSON) along the way, all while dealing with Maltazard and his minions who try to stop them.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Long before affordable home video cameras and Internet posting sites turned kids of all ages into Spielberg wannabes, children created their own movies in their minds. By manipulating otherwise inanimate toys and adding singularly voiced dialogue, kids have long entertained themselves in such a manner.

The girls usually did some sort of love story while the boys stereotypically were more involved with battles or some sort of action and adventure, and both liberally borrowed from sources (books, movies, TV shows, etc.) they had previously seen.

Considering the profession they eventually adopted, it would be interesting if one could go back and see what sort of make-believe tales today's filmmakers created when they were just tykes. Did they foreshadow the tone and sort of cinematic stories they'd later put on film, or did some even go back to their childhood well for their later ideas?

Some of that might explain filmmaker Luc Besson and his latest movie, "Arthur and the Invisibles." A live-action and computer-generated hybrid, the film stems from Besson's book "Arthur et les Minimoys," indicating he has more than just a passing interest in this tale of a 1960s era kid and the miniature world into which he travels to save the day, or at least his grandmother's farm where he lives.

If handled just right, with proper doses of originality, imagination, and smarts, the film could have been an enjoyable and timeless experience to be enjoyed by kids of all ages and generations. Unfortunately, that's not the case as this over-directed offering (it can best be described as being a visual representation of both being and watching an ADD kid) is uneven, sometimes illogical, and lifts a great deal of its elements, themes and more from a multitude of other films.

Firstly, there's the overall miniature world angle previously seen in countless pics ranging from "The Incredible Shrinking Man" to the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" films and even the recent "Ant Bully." Throw in similarities to "The Wizard of Oz," "King Arthur" (obviously), any number of fairy tale type flicks with strange and menacing creatures and more, and the picture ends up feeling decidedly less than novel.

Although the miniature world is supposed to be the film's showcase, I found it (and its less than stellar visual look) considerably less appealing than the live action bookend parts. While such moments are nothing special in their own right, at least they feature the chronically cute Freddie Highmore in real form (previously seen in "Finding Neverland" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," along with his equally charming accent), rather than the troll-like being he turns into when he's miniaturized.

In fact, most everything about the portrayal of that microscopic world doesn't work, even with the likes of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and a miscast Madonna providing the vocal performances. Rocker David Bowie is the best of the bunch as the lead villain, while Snoop Dogg exists in a Rastafarian type sequence that feels out of place.

That scene only helps exacerbate the problem that while the outside world is set in the early 1960s, the one down below strangely exists several decades beyond that (based on the songs played and contemporary-sounding dialogue spoken within it).

Along with Highmore, Mia Farrow gets the lion's share of live action footage, but feels out of place and sync with the rest of the offering (although I guess then she's really in sync with it since so much of it also doesn't work as intended).

While not the worst I've ever seen, the computer animation is decidedly less than state of the art, meaning there aren't even any spectacular visuals to take one's mind off the lame plotline. And perhaps that's the worst offense, in that what should have been an incredibly imaginative place turns out to be rather rote at best. Sure, there are bouts of action, but they don't make up for a deficit in creativity that's far too pronounced and/or a running time (nearly two hours) that's far too long for the film's target audience.

Experiencing "Arthur and the Invisibles" ends up coming off like watching a spastic child putting on his own self-centered show featuring available toys and storyline elements lifted from other films. The kids might enjoy it, but it's likely you may end up wanting to do something else and thus wait out this hyperactive movie until its sugar buzz is mercifully over. The film rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 19, 2006 / Posted January 12, 2007

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