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Artemis Fowl review: Disney Plus removes the criminal but keeps the action

Artemis isn't the ruthless mastermind we grew to love in the early 2000s.

Artemis Fowl hits Disney Plus on June 12.
Walt Disney Pictures

It took two decades to bring Artemis Fowl to the movies, but it still suffers from the usual fate of adapted books: Less time spent showing off its smarts, too much time devoted to fight scenes and explosions. 

For a novel whose soul is a ruthless 12-year-old prodigy who's always two steps ahead of everyone else, it's hard to let go of that.

Why is it on Disney Plus?

Disney's Artemis Fowl was originally intended for theatrical release. But after being pushed from August 2019 to May 2020, it became the first casualty from Disney's slate of releases. Instead of showing in theaters, it's been relegated to the company's streaming service due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Disney's bigger blockbuster movies, including Black Widow, Jungle Cruise and Mulan, will still hit theaters at a later date. But while Artemis Fowl boasts an impressive cast -- including Disney staple Josh Gad, Dame Judi Dench and Colin Farrell, as well as director Kenneth Branagh -- it's still one of the less-hyped films on Disney's slate.

How does the movie measure up to the book?

Set in modern-day Ireland, Artemis Fowl is the story of a young boy who kidnaps a fairy while she's on a peacekeeping mission. In this world, fairies were forced to move under the earth and oceans after losing a battle with humans almost 10,000 years ago. Humans no longer remember the fairy people, but Artemis uncovers evidence of their world, and seeks to exploit it.

The movie hinges on the sudden disappearance of Artemis Fowl Senior (Colin Farrell). When 12-year-old Artemis Jr (Ferdia Shaw) receives a ransom call demanding he hand over an Aculos (a stolen fairy item) his bodyguard Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) reveals a hidden chamber inside the mansion containing supernatural relics.

It's a huge departure from the books, where Artemis learns about the fairy world after manipulating an alcoholic sprite in Vietnam, stealing her book and translating the runes himself.


Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw.


At least he's still clever enough to use the "fairytales" his father told him as a child to track down the Book of the People (which is conveniently inside his own home), and translate enough of it to find and kidnap fairy police officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell). Artemis and Butler hold Holly to ransom for the Aculos, which is apparently "a skeleton key for the whole universe."

This kicks off the main components of the original storyline: A blend of fairy technology and warfare, a "time stop" for negotiations, a dwarf digging underneath the house and the release of a troll into the manor. But instead of receiving a ton of gold at the end, Artemis recovers the Aculos (again, it was conveniently inside his own home).

The movie version of Artemis isn't the cruel and calculated character we see on the page, so his redemption arc is lost. It's now the story of a smarter-than-average schoolboy doing what he can to save his father. 

But it's not only Artemis who's changed. Motivations and personalities have been watered down for all major characters. The centaur Foaly (Nikesh Patel) is now simply a tech expert, and Dame Judi Dench's Commander Root is either barking orders or giving sage advice. That's about it.

Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), a kleptomaniac dwarf who can't stop picking pockets and cracking jokes, is now the one source of comic relief -- and the only character who's truly retained his personality and skill set from the books. Mulch is also now the narrator of the story as he tells it to MI6 during his interrogation about Artemis Fowl Senior's alleged thefts in the human world.


Ferdia Shaw as Artemis Fowl.

Disney Plus

The Disney Plus movie bounces between loyalty to Book Artemis -- a child genius who deliberately upsets his therapist by divulging that his prized antique chair is a fake -- and the new Active Artemis who surfs and hover boards. Book Artemis could never.

As someone who's followed the story since the release of the first book in 2001, it also feels like a movie that's been extensively rewritten and reshot -- which likely caused it to be pushed into 2020 and ultimately become a casualty of the coronavirus delays.

If you're looking for a fun action movie for kids with fairytales, futuristic technology, impressive special effects, beautiful music and stunning scene scapes, you've come to the right place. If you wanted to see the cunning Artemis who struggles to overcome his own ego in his quest to steal gold from the fairy underworld, you'll be disappointed.

After all, why adapt a book that was wildly popular two decades ago if you're not going to honor the very being that is Artemis Fowl?