Artemis Fowl is Disney’s latest live-action addition to its list of book-to-movie productions. The question on the lips of diehard fans is if Disney has succeeded with the standard of Harry Potter 3 or fallen into the pile of disavowed adaptations.
Disney’s Artemis Fowl tails behind the clever Irish born Artemis Fowl II as he discovers the reality of mythical beings. Torn between endangering the livelihood of the magical world and rescuing his own father, Artemis must concoct an intricate plan to outwit everyone in his way.
Admittedly, I was a viewer stepping into this world without a hint of what the books might have promised. I was a clean slate, hoping for a cleverly developed production to introduce me to the world that has enthralled many. It has, instead, given the heavy burden of world building to exposition and bland dialogue.
The story itself needed a lot more crafting before someone called ‘action’, which from a quick google has potentially crammed in the plot of the first two books. Creative license is very necessary to turn well-planned novels into movies, but these movies are so often under worked which leads to these heavy introductions that become unbalanced with their relatively empty climax. It’s the Achilles heel of the book-to-movie world and Artemis Fowl has certainly fallen to this weakness.
Given the investigation of a new world is a difficult task even for original scripts. Writers and directors have to, at times, rely on clichés or a general understanding of genre and theme to quickly get a new world’s details across. Narration is a common choice and it’s difficult to get right. Disney’s Artemis Fowl came to rely on all of these elements, the narration only saved by the husky growl of Josh Gad.
Dialogue is difficult to get natural, and even more so when writing narration. It’s a common trap to hear creative flair and statements like ‘you see’ when a character is given the job to guide the story through it’s ups and downs. These moments cause interruption to Gad’s delivery and make the tale sound stale.
But, even with the failings of the dialogue and narration, Gad easily outshines the cast in the role of Mulch Diggums. His voice is cleverly crafted to align with the specific magical characteristics of his very tall dwarf role. He even takes time to make light of this while conversing with the equally hoarse Commander Root (Judi Dench).
The pair work well together, each carrying the scenes they appear in and guiding their younger co-stars through the tricky world in front of cameras.
Ferdia Shaw, the titular character Artemis, carries his role with a certain swagger common for most book-to-movie, boy heroes. It’s a kind of certainty we’ve come to expect from these roles, one I’m sure captivates young boys enough to put the character in the category of role model.
It’s a similar aura to Alex Rider from Stormbreaker which I feel, unfortunately, may cause issue with fans of the original material.
I’ve read that in the books Artemis demonstrates himself as one with moral ambiguity. The readers find themselves questioning if the boy’s actions are selfish or flecked with an essence of empathy. This clever layering is missing from the movie where viewers will find the classic hero dancing on the outskirts of society, haunted by a past trauma, but ready to play the hero.
Alongside Shaw is Lara McDonnell as Holly Short. She fills the role admirably, hitting the expected ques required for the story to progress, but isn’t given much chance to investigate the emotional weight of her actions and the potential consequences.
As someone outside the fandom and solely working with the live action movie, I find it incredibly odd how underused Juliet Butler (Tamara Smart) is. As an expert martial artist proven during her introduction, the girl is never used aside from giving food to Holly or Artemis. During the infiltration of the Fowl Manor, her character resorts to fleeing when she was more physically equipped to face the enemy than Artemis.
And finally, the villain Opal is so disinteresting, vague, and detached from the action she’s barely even worth mentioning. Her aloofness and lack of agency leads me to think Disney was hoping to develop her in a sequel, a future I don’t foresee happening.
A lot of these points can be boiled down to simplifying production due to its young target audience. But we know mature themes can be investigate through media classically identified as children’s entertainment. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a perfect example of this which renders forgiveness of this kind of simplification undue. In my opinion, it’s lazy writing with the hopes of quick box office revenue.
The movie really is designed for young viewers. It holds an air of Spiderwick, Santa Claus (it’s the elves, man), and Spy Kids. Adults will find Gad’s comedic timing very entertaining, but it is so infrequent that there is little else but Judi Dench to drag the story along.
Disney’s Artemis Fowl has the potential to entertain younger audiences with its magical flares and young actors, but it will surely disappoint the fans that grew up reading the mythical novels.
Artemis Fowl is streaming on Disney + from 6pm.