Nonso Anozie, left, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in the movie “Artemis Fowl.”(Nicola Dove / Disney)
Palisades Charter High School

Review: Where did ‘Artemis Fowl’ go wrong?

After being delayed twice, the movie “Artemis Fowl” was released to Disney+ on June 12. The source material, an eight-part YA novel series that began in 2001, had been stuck in the process of getting a film adaption ever since the first book was published. As time went on, the prospect of Artemis Fowl coming to the big screen looked slim. As a devout fan of the books, I petitioned for its creation back in 2015.

In the first book, 12-year old genius Artemis Fowl’s father is missing, presumed dead. With his mother in a state of insanity, Artemis strives to restore the Fowl family fortune on his own. His personal research about fairies leads to him kidnapping elf Holly Short and holding her for ransom. The story plays out as a game of wits, with Artemis manipulating the fairies every step of the way.

On the other hand, Disney’s Artemis Fowl movie is centered around the “Aculos,” a device whose workings are left secret but possesses the power to connect the human and the fairy world. Artemis’ father is kidnapped by a hooded figure, who demands the Aculos as ransom. Using knowledge passed down to him from previous generations of Fowls, Artemis kidnaps Holly in exchange for the Aculos, causing the fairies’ police force to descend upon the mansion in order to get her back.

There is no distinct villain in the first novel, which is part of what made the story special. The quite unnecessary addition of one, of whom is given no backstory or motive, makes Artemis seem much more like the “good guy” than someone who calls themselves a criminal mastermind should. Of course, this may have been Disney’s attempt at making the series appear as a more positive influence on viewers.

The opening chapter of the book consists of Artemis poisoning a fairy in order to get information about the species; certainly not the kind of heroic protagonist that stars in most Disney films. As such, the Artemis Fowl movie lost what made the books such a unique series in the realm of YA fantasy. The Artemis Fowl I grew up with did not begin as a good person, but his cunningness, intelligence and overall charm managed to make him likable. 

Flashover to the fairy world, where Holly Short has had her entire backstory changed. In the novels, Holly faces sexism — she’s the first female LEPrecon captain — and Commander Root is especially hard on her. She’s determined to prove herself and consequently prove the capability of female fairies.

In the Artemis Fowl movie, Commander Root has been gender-swapped, leaving Holly to shoulder the burden of her father’s crime against the fairy people instead. This removes a huge chunk of story and theme, making it so that both Holly and Artemis are important because of their family history rather than their own abilities.

The movie has received criticism for its special effects, most notably in the form of kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggums. In the world of Artemis Fowl, dwarves have the ability to unhinge their jaws and eat through the soil. The image turned out to be extremely unsettling since Josh Gad’s Mulch looks wholly human if not for that.

To me, Mulch being passed off as a giant dwarf seemed more like CGI laziness than an “it’s okay to be different” moral.

Haven City, the fairies’ high-tech underground home, was perhaps the highlight in terms of digital rendering. Unnecessary centaur clomping, a time freeze scene that lasted a bit too long and fight scenes that don’t utilize the full ability of the fairies’ futuristic technology leave the potential for something better.

By trying to combine both the first and the second book, the Artemis Fowl movie introduces too much and leaves too many loose ends. In the end, it would have been much better off sticking to the novel.