Ten-year-old Arthur would love to follow in the footsteps of his treasure-hunting, Africa-exploring grandpa. But ever since the legendary old man disappeared while on one of his journeys, the boy and his grandma can only reminisce about him at their Connecticut house in the country—while Arthur’s parents search for jobs in the city. (The story’s set in what looks to be the early 1960s.)
Then a heartless real estate developer swoops in and informs Granny that he plans to demolish her house and turn it into an apartment complex. He’s already got all the paperwork done, and unless Grandpa can suddenly reappear, sign the papers and come up with payment within 48 hours, it seems a sure bet she and Arthur will be evicted.
The ever-clever, always-optimistic Arthur has a plan, though. Grandpa buried a treasure somewhere on the grounds, and the youngster is determined to find it and save the day. But to track it down, he has to have faith in what seems ridiculous to everyone else. His grandfather told stories of a kingdom of Minimoys who stand only about as tall as a tooth, and who hold his stash of rubies somewhere in their underground world. Taking nothing more than his desire and pure heart, Arthur sets out to save both the house and—as we soon find out—these tiny creatures, too.
Arthur never gives up hope that things will turn out for the best, and he advises others along the way to adopt the same attitude. When he suggests that a group of physically intimidating African warriors take his place in fighting off a looming evil, their leader tells him, “Your heart is the strongest of weapons.” Arthur also makes a promise to find an old man’s captured son, and he does all he can to see that promise through.
Explaining why Arthur’s parents have left him with his grandma, the narrator tells us, “Times were tough, and his mother and father were doing the best they could to take care of him.” Later, however, they vow to never let money problems keep their family apart again. Similarly, a Minimoy king reunited with his children calls them his “most prized possessions.”
Some of the bad things that happen to people in the story are linked to bad choices they made. Viewers are warned, in a way, to be careful about who they pick for their friends, and what they decide to do when they have to choose between good and evil—or even between discretion and carelessness.
Arthur transforms into a Minimoy, and, obviously, there’s a magical element involved with that. In the same fantasy vein, Arthur is the only one who can extract a “magic sword of power” from the rock in which it is embedded.
But the spiritual aspect of this colorful realm gets taken further with several comments about gods and spirits. The Minimoy king sends off his daughter, Princess Selenia, by asking the “spirits of the ancients” to guide her. Later, he echoes a friend’s sentiment to have faith by saying, “May the gods hear you.” That associate then celebrates the return of a family member with, “The gods have sent you.” Maltazard, an evil ruler at war with Selenia’s people, speaks of a spell that has disfigured him, and he recognizes Selenia as being the only one who can reverse the curse and save his life. A Minimoy who operates the machine that transports Arthur from the human world to the underworld takes various actions to assure that Arthur’s spirit and soul are sent along with his body.
In the world above, a couple of characters—including the unloving developer—mention going to church and call Sunday “the day of our Lord.” When faced with what seems to be sure death, Grandpa tells a group, “the only solution is to pray for a miracle.”
Several characters believe that merely mentioning the name of Maltazard brings bad luck. (They refer to him only as “the evil M.”)
The filmmakers build in a bit of “sexual tension” between Arthur and Selenia. There’s nothing sexual about their subtle flirtatiousness, but it’s worth noting that this barely tweenage boy interacts with the 999-year-old (but still young-looking) Minimoy as though he was more like 15.
The moment a group of Minimoy girls catch their first glimpse of the metamorphosed Arthur, they sigh and gasp. One of them deems him “hot.” A smooth-talking club owner kisses the hand of Selenia and calls her “baby.” Selenia, who is voiced by Madonna, dresses a bit like the shameless superstar. She’s drawn to be quite curvy in a few scenes, and her outfit reveals her midriff. One song mentions lovers.
In the animated underworld we see plenty of clashes between the Minimoys Arthur befriends and a legion of evil mutants, led by the ruthless Maltazard. Most of this simply involves parrying and pushing and shoving, but Arthur does bring a couple of henchmen to their knees with a swing of the sword across their legs. During a fight with Maltazard’s men, Selenia kicks one in the crotch. Others are knocked off the mosquitoes they ride with catapulted cherries. Armed with a menacing mace, Maltazard’s son goes after Selenia, her brother and Arthur, smashing up the room they’re in. After an airborne fight that brings to mind Star Wars‘ pod-racing, Arthur slams into a wall and crashes to the ground. Mosquitoes aren’t so lucky. Several break up into bits after they’re lured—at top speed—into a crevice too small for their bodies.
Selenia holds a blade to Arthur’s throat to stop him from following her into a confrontation with Maltazard. She also jokes about cutting off her brother’s tongue. There’s lots of talk about Maltazard’s plans to slaughter the entire Minimoy population.
The scene in which Arthur enters the Minimoy world could frighten some younger viewers, as it appears he gets squashed. More than once Arthur and his traveling companions escape perilous situations (such as falling over a waterfall).
Above ground, the conniving developer comically slips on a ball and lands hard. While attempting to steal a key from Granny, Arthur falls off a chair and breaks a door. He then attempts to drive a truck but crashes it into a tree.
God’s name is interjected three times, and “oh my gosh” is spoken just as frequently. A “what the …” exclamation goes unfinished. A young prince is called a “pain in my keister,” while “butt” is used a few times in other situations. Other name-calling includes “fool,” “rat-boy” and “stupido.”
A club owner (voiced by Snoop Dogg) serves the group a round of neon drinks that, when downed, cause the characters to blow out a green smoke. There’s no alcohol or drug mention whatsoever, but with the weed-loving Snoop Dogg connection, I couldn’t help but wonder if the filmmakers were enjoying a little wink-wink in the direction of the adult crowd.
Grandma immediately falls asleep after accidentally taking an excessive amount of her “sleeping drops.” Her husband is shown in a photo with a pipe in hand.
Arthur disobeys his grandmother when she tells him not to leave his room and get into mischief. She does wrong by him too, though, by locking him in. True to character, the cold-blooded Maltazard leaves his own son to drown. (We don’t see his final moments.)
Fraggle Rock never looked this cool. Toggling between CGI and live action, Arthur and the Invisibles enters a magical underground world that Jim Henson and his Muppets could’ve only dreamed about. In his own big-screen adaptation of his own best-selling children’s books, French director Luc Besson delivers to American moviegoers fragmented pieces of the King Arthur legend, The Dark Crystal, Star Wars and even The Lord of the Rings sprinkled in amidst a Bug’s Life-meets-Ant Bully cinematic setting. There’s plenty of action, adventure and heroism, then, to keep kids in the theater glued to their seats.
Their parents, on the other hand, may squirm a bit out of sheer boredom from the clichéd dialogue and remarkably flat voice performances from a horde of celebrities that includes not just Madonna and Snoop, but also David Bowie, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Emilio Estevez, Mia Farrow and Jimmy Fallon. Those same parents will also fidget when they encounter the abuses of God’s name, a not-really-veiled alcohol/weed gag and a spiritual mishmash as diverse as the film’s influences. A bare-bellied role model won’t go over so well with some, either.
Not too long ago we saw the Weinstein brothers’ new distribution company bring another European children’s tale, Doogal, across the Pond. It also suffered from being Americanized with big-name actors delivering uninspired lines in the midst of a less-than-remarkable story. It went largely unnoticed. Despite some positives (optimism, courage, cleverness, teamwork, loyalty, selflessness), Arthur may be just as invisible, if not entirely forgettable, amidst a rising tide of animated adventures.