Normally, I’m one to defend French Cinema. Not only did cinema-in-general originate in France (courtesy of The Lumière Brothers), but the country’s many filmmakers have pioneered many subgenres of moving pictures through the years; including La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave), Cinéma Du Look and various offshoots of the ever-popular crime film. Many a time have I sat in front of a screen — be it large or small — and been in sheer and utter awe as I bore witness to the charms of such auteurs as Jean-Luc Godard, and thespians like Alain Delon. Indeed, many American movie-makers have been inspired by the likes of François Truffaut, attempting to infuse his masterful artistry into their own works — though to little avail.
But French family flicks? Now that’s another story altogether! In 2002, filmmaker Luc Besson — the man behind such classics as Subway and La Femme Nikita — felt a tiny bit of jealousy over J.K. Rowling’s trillion-dollar Harry Potter franchise and began the first of four children’s fantasy novels entitled Arthur Et Les Minimoys. The tale took place in the early-‘60s, with ten-year-old Arthur discovering an extremely tiny civilization of critters (the “Minimoys”) in his backyard — a society that his grandfather had brought back from an expedition in Africa. Thanks to the powers of science fiction, Arthur manages to shrink and take on Minimoy form; becoming a hero within the miniature world by helping defeat the evil Maltazard, and becoming betrothed to the Minimoy princess Selenia before returning to his regular world.
Three follow-up books followed, and in 2006, Besson combined the first two stories into one silver screen adaptation: the half-live-action/half-live-animation movie Arthur Et Les Minimoys. Besson’s time spent writing his stories and working on a feature-length version did not go wasted; the film enjoyed a rather worthwhile run in European theaters. Its American release, on the other hand, didn’t really make the cut — literally: The Weinstein Company, the film’s U.S. distributors, bastardized the movie all to Hell by attempting to “Americanize” the feature. New, famous performers from both the cinematic and music worlds (Madonna, Robert De Niro, David Bowie, Snoop Dogg, Harvey Keitel, Jason Bateman, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Anderson, Jimmy Fallon, et al) were brought in to dub over the voices of the animated Minimoy characters in Arthur And The Invisibles (as the Weinsteins seemed fit to call it); several elements of the film were changed in order to dissuade Yankee audiences from being alienated by some foreign flick — which, ironically enough, alienated viewers even more.
Needless to say, the Weinsteins’ altered release of Besson’s adaptation of his own kiddie fantasy novel proved to be a disaster in the United States. So, when the rights for Besson’s two sequels to Arthur Et Les Minimoys from 2009 and 2010 were picked up by Twentieth Century Fox (the Weinsteins were not available for comment), the boys and girls calling the shots there wisely decided to release these two follow-up features directly to home video. Now, you’d think that the folks at Fox would have heeded the misfortune the Weinsteins encountered only a few years before by not altering the features too terribly much — as well as not making the same mistake of hiring famous celebrities from the music biz to voice the Minimoys.
Sadly, this is Hollywood we’re talking about: the same place that continuously employs Michael Bay and Will Smith. Not only did Fox release these sequels on Blu-ray and DVD as Walmart Exclusives (!), but they also brought in such “talents” (although I urge you not to take my usage of such a word seriously) as Selena Gomez, Will.I.Am and Fergie to voice the animated characters — hoping to prompt something vaguely resembling interest amongst the barely-literate, barely-legitimate offspring of Walmart denizens across the nation in the process. Who knows: they might have even succeeded in doing so had they have actually advertised the names of such celebrities or even spent a little extra money on manufacturing cardboard displays that exhibited said recording artists.
Alas, they didn’t — and the double-disc release of Arthur And The Invisibles 2 & 3: The New Minimoy Adventures went about as noticed to the public as a virginal, socially-awkward nerd at a science-fiction convention.
The first feature in this set — which completes Besson’s moving picture trilogy of the franchise — 2009’s Arthur And The Revenge Of Maltazard (Arthur Et La Vengeance De Maltazard) is undoubtedly the weakest of the three films. Freddie Highmore and the other “major” live-action actors from the first film (Mia Farrow, Penny Balfour, Doug Rand, etc.) return in this tale that does little else but set up the third film. Arthur receives a message he believes to be from the Minimoys asking for his help, so he shrinks down to microscopic size to investigate. As it turns out, though, the message was sent by Maltazard — who was previously voiced by David Bowie, but is replaced here with the nearly-sleep-inducing tenor of the great Lou Reed (whom I adore as a musician, but he just doesn’t cut it as a villainous voice actor).
Near the end of the movie, Maltazard infiltrates Arthur’s world; growing to an above-average height for the human civilization with intent to conquer. Prior to that, we are treated to one boring scene after another of animated Arthur and his Mimimoy pals (Selena Gomez replaces Madonna as Princess Selenia, while Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Fallon return for another guilt-free paycheck) as they try to figure out what Besson’s already-dull script after it had been Americanized too much. This second chapter even ends abruptly with a “To Be Continued” peek at the third film. And, just when you think you couldn’t have your IQ insulted any further, a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” sung by children plays.
Let’s put it this way: The Empire Strikes Back it ain’t. A’ight?
Moving on, then. 2010’s conclusion, Arthur 3: The War Of The Two Worlds (Arthur Et La Guerre Des Deux Mondes), is far-more enjoyable than its predecessor. We begin with Maltazard on the loose in the human world, primed to do really bad things and stuff. With the help of his Minimoy homeys and a hive of friendly bees, Arthur returns to his normal form and teams up with Maltazard’s idiotic son, Darkos (voiced by Iggy Pop: an extremely-far-removed but nevertheless-very-interesting successor to Jason Bateman’s vocal portrayal from the first film) — who also gets to take on a humanoid size — to defeat the “Evil M” once more…but not before the aforementioned scoundrel successfully amasses and enlarges an army of soldiers and lays waste to the nearest town.
Of course, no matter how superior this one is to Arthur And The Revenge Of Maltazard, when you stop to consider that Besson combined the first two Minimoy books to make one film, you can’t help but wonder why he didn’t slap the last two books together for a second feature. Really, everything could have been amalgamated into one big epic and it’d have worked (which is what the Brits did, actually: and released their UK-only blend as Arthur And The Great Adventure). But no, instead Monsieur Besson opted to make a trilogy à la that George Lucas fellow — and his feeble attempt to combat Star Wars is noticeable in Arthur 3: The War Of The Two Worlds when Arthur disguises Darkos in assorted antique outfits to avoid detection in the human world. When put together, Darkos resembles Darth Vader — to wit a young, familiar-looking, unnamed, bearded reporter with glasses enters and is promptly struck with inspiration.
All Americanization aside, Fox’s release of Arthur And The Invisibles 2 & 3: The New Minimoy Adventures isn’t something anyone’ll go out of their way to place in their movie collection. It probably goes without saying that the entire Minimoy saga is not Luc Besson’s finest hour. As far as kiddie/family fare goes, Arthur And The Revenge Of Maltazard barely suffices to entertain; Arthur 3: The War Of The Two Worlds, however, is pretty enjoyable. While it would certainly help if any interested parties saw the first film, it isn’t a requirement: the average Joe could dive into these two sequels without being versed in Minimoy history.
Arthur And The Invisibles 2 & 3: The New Minimoy Adventures was issued on both Blu-ray DVD. The 2-disc Standard-Definition set houses one film per disc and preserves the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratios. Overall, the A/V aspects of this SD-DVD release get a thumbs up from me: they’re not great, but they work just fine here given the care put into them (little to none) and the fact that it‘s regular ol‘ DVD we‘re talking about. No special features are included with this release — unless you count the same assortment of trailers and promos that bombard you as each disc starts up as being “special.”
In short: do I recommend Arthur And The Invisibles 2 & 3: The New Minimoy Adventures? No, not really. If you’re a fan of the series, then you know that you would be more content with owning a European import of the series — and that Arthur And The Revenge Of Maltazard is not a classic no matter how you look at it.