Movie Review: Disney’s ‘Artemis Fowl’ a real turkey


A child genius must save his kidnapped father, with the help of an underground kingdom of fairies, dwarves, and goblins, in Artemis Fowl, an incomprehensible mess culled from Irish author Eoin Colfer’s popular series of young adult novels that has been wisely dumped on Disney+ in the wake the coronavirus pandemic. 

In Colfer’s novels (unread by me), Artemis Fowl is introduced as a criminal mastermind and antagonist who kidnaps a fairy for ransom in the opening book – – before becoming a more nuanced antihero in the subsequent seven novels. 

In the film, Artemis Fowl (played by Ferdia Shaw, grandson of Robert) is introduced as a brilliant-but-arrogant 12-year-old who turns his nose up at school, and who we are asked to care about simply because he’s at the center of the movie. He treasures the vaguely-detailed exploits of his father, Artemis Fowl Sr. (played ever-so-briefly by Colin Farrell), who may or may not be some kind of criminal mastermind himself. I’m still not entirely sure. 

Fowl Sr. is kidnapped by unknown forces; a raspy-voiced figure in hood, the film’s primary antagonist who we never even see (credited only as “Shadowy Female Figure”), takes him hostage for the duration of the movie and demands that Fowl Jr. turn over “the Aculus”, a mysterious object of limitless power, or something, that serves as the movie’s MacGuffin. 

The setup seems simple enough, but it’s at this point, ten minutes into the movie, that Artemis Fowl turns utterly incomprehensible: after the opening at the Fowl’s Irish manor, we’re suddenly jettisoned to the underground world of fairies, dwarves and goblins and dragged through a number of subplots that seem to have little to do with the primary storyline. 

There’s an army of fairies, headed by a raspy-voiced Judi Dench as the 800-year-old Commander Julius Root, who patrol worlds both above and below ground Men in Black-style, and keep their secrets from mankind by tracking incidents and wiping memories. 

Then there’s Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), an officer in Root’s fairy army, who is sent to Italy to manage a troll attack at a wedding, using time-freeze technology to hold the humans in place while she flies around what appears to be a poorly-animated CGI relic from the early 2000s. 

And then there’s Mulch Diggums, played by a raspy-voiced Josh Gad (“raspy” seemed to be the primary instruction from the dialect coach here), a dwarf who digs through ground really fast by chewing up dirt. He also serves as the narrator of Artemis Fowl, in black-and-white sea prison bookend sequences that must have been the film’s last-ditch attempt to make sense of itself. 

In that regard, it didn’t succeed; fans of the source material may have better luck deciphering it all, but most audiences, including the younger demographics at which this is aimed, will have difficulty making sense of things. While individual scenes have enough of their own internal logic, the story threads that connect them have been lost somewhere along the line. 

Filmed two years ago, Artemis Fowl was originally slated for a summer 2019 release; it was pushed back to March 2020, and despite a reported blockbuster budget of $125 million – which is not apparent from this largely second-rate production – has now been dumped on the Disney+ streaming platform to a thoroughly rotten, and entirely deserved, reception.

Artemis Fowl was directed by the great Kenneth Branagh, who can handle blockbuster material; see his excellent take on Marvel’s Thor. This one won’t rank among Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations in career retrospectives, but that may not be the fault of the director; with signs of post-production alterations, the mess that is Artemis Fowl is likely the result of studio tampering gone wrong.

Artemis Fowl


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at

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