ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES (Luc Besson). 102 minutes. Opens Friday (January 12). For venues and times, see Movies, page 68. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Forget the famous names providing voices and rotoscope movement for the fairies. This is just an okay animated children's fantasy that offers little more than a routine variation on the standard quest tale.
Young Arthur (Freddie Highmore from Finding Neverland) shrinks and joins the garden fairies to rescue his grandfather and bring back the treasure that will save the family home from a greedy developer.
Madonna, Robert De Niro, Snoop Dogg and the rest are adequate to the simplistic dialogue and weak humour. Bad fairy David Bowie gets the script's only decent speech, but he handles it in a way that makes you yearn for Boris Karloff. Only Mia Farrow, as Arthur's grandmother, shows any real feeling.
The fairies themselves - the heroes we're supposed to identify with - have the plastic skin, obviously synthetic stitched-in hair and glass bead eyes of Smurf dolls, a strategy that reeks of a marketing ploy and pretty much destroys the illusion.
Writer/producer/director Luc Besson seems to think he's still making Transporter or Jet Li's Unleashed. From the outset, everything is loud, fast, frantic and fragmented. But those other films had rhythm. Here, it's all flat-paced, a great way to deaden both thrills and emotional engagement. At the same time, the speed prevents us from lingering on what seems to be a well-crafted fairy world.