The notion that all good things come to an end doesn’t really apply to “Arthur and the War of Two Worlds,” the third and final chapter in Luc Besson’s overblown melange of animation, live-action and unappealing kid’s fantasy. Once again featuring the microscopic world of the Invisibles and their cookie-cutter American backyard, this episode shows some improvements on the tech side, with stronger 3D rendering and imagery that’s easier on the eyes. But with another blandly recycled storyline and a denouement that feels rather violent for tykes, EuropaCorp’s €65 million ($91 million) venture may see miniature returns outside its potent local fan base.
While the second part of the trilogy failed to land a U.S. distributor (the first installment was released by the Weinstein Co.), it scored solid numbers in Gaul, raking in close to 4 million admissions and unloading beaucoup DVDs and merchandise afterwards. Although much of the world seemed to tune out of the series after the first film, there are likely enough French children hooked on the fate of Arthur (Freddie Highmore), his elfin damsel-in-distress, Princess Selenia (voiced by Selena Gomez), and their nemesis, Maltazard (Lou Reed) — an evil emperor who dresses in tattered leather bondage wear — that the pic should play well enough in France and Francophone markets.
For those who skipped the first two parts, things kick off with an overcaffeinated highlight reel that attempts to explain where the story has gone thus far. In a nutshell, Maltazard has grown to human proportions and is planning to invade the world above ground, while Arthur is still shrunken and trying to get back to normal size so he can save his grandparents (Mia Farrow, Ronald Crawford) and parents (Robert Stanton, Penny Balfour) from doomsday.
With more live-action portions than the previous films, much of the narrative cuts between Arthur and Selenia as they face an array of miniature obstacles (straight out of the “Toy Story” pics), as well as Maltazard’s efforts to disguise himself as a magician, make his way into Arthur’s home and retrieve a potion to summon up his underground warriors. Soon giant killer mosquitoes are attacking the neighboring town in a rather brutal scene (straight out of “The Birds”) that eventually leads to a massive, pyrotechnic-heavy battle against both Arthur and the U.S. Army.
As in the rest of the series, there’s little here that’s feels either original or enjoyable, with lots of stock ’60s settings (including a retrofitted McDonald’s) and overanxious characters that fail to create a mythical universe one can actually invest in. At the very least, writer-director-producer Besson isn’t afraid to do whatever he wants with the production’s sizable budget, such as casting rock legends Reed and Iggy Pop (as Maltazard’s tormented son, Darkos) to amusingly voice a pair of creatures who spend more time kvetching than they do wreaking havoc, or offering a bizarre homage to “Star Wars” in the form of an encounter with a young George Lucas body double.
If the head-swirling CGI in the first “Arthur” made the screen look as if it were being assaulted by Skittles, the 3D animated sequences (by Gallic f/x house BUF) in this episode are more skillfully rendered, with a chase scene set on a model train serving as the series’ probable highlight. Pic’s many outdoor settings also give vet d.p. Thierry Arbogast the chance to work with more naturalistic light and a softer color palette than the one used for the Invisibles’ gaudy underground lair.
Score by Besson regular Eric Serra is fitfully bombastic and unsparingly used. Punk fans may want to stick around for the closing credits, which offer the rare opportunity to hear Iggy Pop, backed by a band of metal-geared mutants, perform a cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”