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Film review: ‘Arthur and the Invisibles’ lacks magic

Star casting also proves to be an unhappy distraction

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Princess Selenia, voiced by Madonna, is an Invisible in "Arthur and the Invisibles," which does have first-rate cast, imaginative designs.

Princess Selenia, voiced by Madonna, is an Invisible in “Arthur and the Invisibles,” which does have first-rate cast, imaginative designs.

The Weinstein Company

ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES — ** — Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow; and featuring the voices of Madonna, Jimmy Fallon and others; rated PG (violence, vulgarity).

"Arthur and the Invisibles" has almost everything you could want from a family movie, including a first-rate voice cast and imaginative designs. The one critical thing it lacks, however, is the most important component — magic and a sense of wonder.

This fantasy blend of live-action and digital animation is just never quite as wondrous as it really should be. (It should be noted that this review is based on an earlier version of the film that was screened for critics. A few changes and edits have been made since then.)

The U.S. release of this French film also suffers from "stunt casting." The recognizable voice performers include musician-actors Madonna, Snoop Dogg and David Bowie, comedians Anthony Anderson and Jimmy Fallon, and movie tough-guys Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri and Harvey Keitel, all of whom prove to be distractions.

Freddie Highmore ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") stars as Arthur, a young boy who's trying to save his grandparents' farm from being sold off to creditors. His only hope for doing so may rest with the Minimoys, tiny, fairylike creatures who could help find a treasure his long-missing grandfather (Ron Crawford) stashed somewhere in the back yard.

The resourceful and clever Arthur does find a way to transport himself into the Minimoys' diminutive kingdom, but he becomes involved in a civil war started by the evil Maltazard (Bowie).

This is a pretty odd choice of material for French filmmaker Luc Besson, whose usual milieu is violent action (among his credits are 1994's "The Professional" and 1990's "La Femme Nikita").

Perhaps that explains the presence of some questionable material. For one thing, there's a "romance" of sorts that seems creepy, considering the characters involved are voiced by the 14-year-old Highmore and the much-older Madonna.

"Arthur and the Invisibles" is rated PG for scenes of animated violence (creature combat) and peril, some slapstick and crude humor (flatulence). Running time: 94 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com