Taking seven years and the efforts of over 700 people to complete, 'Arthur and the Invisibles' is a triumph of perseverance.
The original idea by Céline Garcia of a boy who enters the world of elves inspired director Luc Besson to write four volumes of Arthur's (Highmore) adventures. This movie is based on the first two – 'Arthur and the Invincibles' and 'Arthur and the Forbidden City'.
Arthur was born to an American mother (Balfour) and an English father (Rand). He is educated in a British boarding school, but spends his summers at his grandparents' house in a small town in 1960s USA. With his parents having to work long hours in an unspecified city and his British-accented grandfather (Crawford) on the missing list for four years, Arthur and his grandmother (Farrow) basically live alone together.
This situation leaves the young lad with a lot of time on his hands, and he uses it to read an old magic book his granddad left behind. However, their tranquil existence takes a hit when local businessman Davido (LeFevre) calls 'round to warn the family that they have 48 hours to pay an outstanding debt, or face eviction from the property.
With their backs to the wall, Arthur realises that his absent grandfather has left a litany of clues to treasure hidden in the family's back garden. Much more than the treasure though, there is an invisible world away from the naked eye. The intrepid 10-year-old decides to explore this world, but must first take a leap of faith and shrink himself to the size of this secret world's inhabitants.
The film starts and ends in real life, but a large chunk of its middle section – the time Arthur spends in the garden underworld – is dominated by innovative special effects. CGI director Pierre Buffin and his company, BUF Cie, came up with the idea of blending live-action with 3D. It works brilliantly and there is a wonderful fluidity to this part of the movie. It is also where a lot of well-known actors and musicians lend their voices.
However, the test of movies involving animation is not how good the special effects or how famous the voices are, but if we, as viewers, buy into the fantasy. The simple answer here is yes. When Maltazard (Bowie) first speaks you may be momentarily distracted, but this soon passes. Even the outdoor scenes, actually shot in the Normandy area of France, are thoroughly convincing.
The plot leaves plenty of wriggle room at the end, and, as long as this production pays the bills, we can (hopefully) expect another instalment.