Arthur (Highmore) dreams of following his missing grandfathers footsteps and becoming an explorer. To help save his grandmothers house, he goes on a quest to find rubies in the back garden, and falls in with a tiny, animated civilisation.
There are times, watching this tale of Arthur and the Minimoys (the original, better title), when you really want to hate it. About 60 per cent of the film takes place in an animated miniature world where Zelda rejects the Minimoys run about in a series of ill-defined quests to save a city, find some treasure, rescue some bloke and a few other plots crammed together in a desperate attempt to keep things moving. Star voice cameos abound, led by Madonna’s turn as a petulant princess. And there’s a tacky, dated computer-game feel to much of the world, giving the colourful and rather cute characters an amateurish feel.
That it remains impossible to dislike is entirely down to Freddie Highmore’s Arthur and Mia Farrow as his granny, both utterly charming and happily capable of carrying the film on their backs. Highmore would have to actually lace on gloves and duke it out with the elder Ms. Fanning to decide who gets the title of Best Child Actor around, but his combination of seriousness of purpose and childlike enthusiasm certainly puts him right up there with Little Miss Acting America, and even with this step towards adolescent roles he’s still cute as a button.
Farrow, meanwhile, displays a light comic touch as his grandmother, but also keeps the film’s feet on the ground. After all, Arthur’s adventures in the magical kingdom are prompted by his urgent need to find the rubies his grandfather buried in the back yard (where the Minimoys live) before the old man disappeared. Farrow’s grief at that development is rather beautifully conveyed in a couple of brief, almost wordless scenes, as is her attempt to protect Arthur from the truth when developers come to seize the house, and her frantic worry when he too goes missing.
Between them, Highmore and Farrow build just enough goodwill to get you through the dreadfully animated early scenes until you get used to it, so that, by the time David Bowie’s dark lord Maltazard shows up, you’re almost with it. Bowie’s good, even if the explanation of his motives is terribly written. And then you realise that Madonna (48) is voicing Highmore’s (14) love interest. Okay, it’s only voices, but surely there are laws for this sort of thing.
Looks like European animation is still light years behind the US and Japan. Thank goodness for Highmore and Farrow if only the whole film had been live-action.