Imagine if someone remade the animated cult classic Heavy Metal for kids and crossed it with Jim Henson's 1980s puppet movie Labyrinth. You'd have some idea of what to expect with Arthur and the Invisibles (rated PG for fantasy action and brief suggestive material).
Ten-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore) spends hours dreaming over his grandfather's diaries of adventure with a tribe of elf-like sprites called the Minimoys. When a bumbling businessman threatens to take over his grandmother's farm and turn it into a condo high-rise, Arthur finally gets his chance to follow his granddad's footsteps to the Minimoys' realm to save both their home and his.
Though visually arresting, the movie can't seem to decide which audience it's serving. On the one hand, Highmore's chipper performance as Arthur and the world of the Minimoys are sure to appeal to kids. On the other, the dialogue moves too fast for many youngsters, the plot is as intricate as any Star Wars film, and casting that includes one-time gansta rapper and self-proclaimed "pimp" Snoop Dogg will boggle many a parental mind.
An example of this disconnect comes when Arthur and his companions, Princess Selenia (Madonna) and her brother Betameche (Jimmy Fallon), stumble into an underground dance club. Watching the CG characters make their escape with some high-kicking moves is amusing, but savvy parents might notice that both the moves and the music come from Quentin Tarantino's infamous Pulp Fiction.
Even without being aware of the source material, placing supposedly innocent characters in a psychedelic disco scene complete with rolling fog and whirling lights is jarring. More troubling, when a Minimoy bartender serves the group a bubbling green concoction in what can only be described as shot glasses, the entire group quickly throws it back. Fine for a straight fantasy film perhaps, but a poor choice for a movie aimed at preteens.
Unquestionably original, watching Arthur and the Invisibles frequently feels like sitting in on an elaborate video game. But with its sly pop-culture references and occasional adult activities, viewers might wonder exactly what game the producers are playing.