It has the whole Joseph Campbell spiel going for it-
young protagonist must leave home and go on a fantastic journey, meets colorful and goofy sidekicks, defeats the bad guy, and returns to the real world, thus saving his home from the clutches of a greedy old guy.
But there is one huge problem. Unfortunately, the movie is boring. And not just boring.
Painfully slow. The problem stems not from the cast, an odd conglomeration featuring the talents of Madonna, Jimmy Fallon, Robert De Niro and David Bowie (yes, he of the tight pants and glam 80s hair fame of Labyrinth) but from the condescending way it narrates the heart and soul out of the tale.
The story begins with 10-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore ) who is living with his Grandma (Mia Farrow) in a quaint old house in the Conneticut countryside during the summer of 1960. We learn from the much over-used narration that Arthur’s Grandfather, a colorful explorer who once lived in Africa, disappeared without a trace three years ago. Arthur’s absentee parents (are there any other kinds in these types of films?) are in the city, desperately trying to earn a living, but miracously have found a way to send their son to boarding school in England for the summer. Insert logic here for that one.
The trouble begins when a greedy developer arrives, threatening to kick Arthur and Grandma out of the house for failing to pay their bills. Unless Grandfather arrives by noon on Sunday to sign the paperwork, the family will lose their home.
Arthur, being the adventurous child that all children must be in kiddie fantasy movies, sets off to find a treasure hidden in the backyard by his Grandfather before his disappearance. Using clues left behind by the old man and a mystic ritual performed by Africans who literally appear out of nowhere, the plucky kid finds himself shrunk to diminutive stature and joins a group of elvish-like creatures called the Minimoys. But the Minimoys have problems of their own. The Evil M (Mr. Bowie himself) threatens to take over the three kingdoms and the princess needs help retrieving a magic sword out of a rock, etc. etc.
There is literally nothing in this story that we have not seen before, or seen better, in other movies. The animation is spectacular but like ALL recent CGI movies, save for Pixar films and Shrek, this one fails because it assumes that small children must be pandered too and cannot understand story structure unless it is rammed down their throats.
Elements are thrown in for comic relief (a scene in a local bar where Snoop Dogg in Minimoy form jams at the turntables is midly amusing) but overall I looked around to see the primary audience falling asleep in their chairs. Even Bowie, who reprises his type-cast role as Overdressed Weird Guy sitting in a large chair – albeit one made of rubies – can’t save this snooze fest.
It’s a noble attempt by director Luc Besson. But while The Fifth Element, an equally kooky film, managed to connect everything together at the end with at least a mild semblance of humor, emotion, and common sense, this poor film simple falls flat.
A for effort, D for execution.