Artemis Fowl is, unfortunately, another mark against Disney, who appear to have no reason to deviate from live-action remakes, space epics, and superhero fare. Prolific filmmaker Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s beloved adventure novels is spiritless and lacks the magic needed to enchant young audiences.
Both a stake in the heart to original storytelling and an incidental $125 million investment into Disney Plus, Artemis Fowl’s shift from theatrical to streaming release highlights the House of Mouse’s susceptibility to the same hardships experienced by rival studios in launching a fresh franchise.
Set largely inside the confines of Fowl Manor, an Irish beachside mansion abound in mythical relics that attract the unwanted attention of a secret society of magical entities, prodigious and aloof twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw, caught somewhere between Spy Kids and Men in Black) becomes embroiled in the mystery behind his father’s (Colin Farrell, fast becoming a staple in Disney films) disappearance. Left to his own devices, Artemis II, along with a ragtag accompaniment of eclectic heroes, must locate a powerful artefact known as the Aculos – gifted with the ability to abruptly tie up narrative loose ends – to save the day.
Artemis Fowl is the big-budget filmmaking Disney had departed from in the early 2010s; a boisterous, CGI dependent, fantasy epic loosely connected to existing IP, à la John Carter, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Prince of Persia (oh, Jake…), and so on. It is the kind of film that ought to latch onto the audience’s hearts through big spectacle and lovably off-kilter characters. Instead, Artemis Fowl flails about in gaudy visuals – the fast-moving application of CGI often disorientating – and stagnant storytelling that finds the film drag on without any sense of bewilderment.
The absence of charm glaringly extends into the film’s neglect to effectively world-build, the unexplored recesses of the fairy’s Avatar-esque domain and lavishly green Irish countryside butchered by effects that render them as two-dimensional. Choppy edits and graceless dubbing also permeate the film’s ninety-five-minute length, their inclusion detracting from what should be high-concept storytelling.
Perhaps the most redeeming element to Artemis Fowl is Patrick Doyle’s captivating score. The British composer wonderfully infuses Irish musical sensibilities and manages to create a sense of place and adventure to the proceedings; no easy feat, considering.
As narrator, Josh Gad’s comedic relief character Mulch Diggums – a troublemaking dwarfus-giganticus who can extend his jaw with the same enormity as a shocked Looney Tune – proves more interruptive than an engaging narrative through-line. Of course, kids raised on the Frozen films may find his role here appealing. That said, Gad’s characterisation pales in comparison to what’s been placed upon Judi Dench. The Academy Award-winning actor is subjected to a threat-making, mumbling and groaning military role that makes her performance in Cats look nuanced.
Artemis Fowl is unlikely to capture the hearts of Muggles as other book-spawned fantasy properties have. But hey, that’s not to say that some kids looking for some escapism won’t find some enjoyment. As for parents, thank Disney for mercifully sparing you a trip to the cinema.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★✩✩✩
‘Artemis Fowl’ is currently available to watch on streaming service Disney Plus.