Embrace a magical reality with Artemis Fowl on Disney+

Disney’s new epic adventure arrives at your place, thanks to the magic of Disney+. Streaming now, Artemis Fowl sees director Kenneth Branagh bring the beloved modern fantasy books to life, assisted by star power like Colin Farrell and Dame Judi Dench. As Dominic Corry writes, the worlds glimpsed in Artemis Fowl are truly something to behold.

Have you ever wished fairies actually existed? What about goblins? Or trolls or dwarves? Or centaurs—those are the horse/man combos. Well, according to the new Disney fantasy adventure Artemis Fowl, they’re all real, and they live in a magnificent kingdom in the centre of the Earth called the Lower Elements.

It’s one of many amazing revelations in the new big-budget adaptation of Irish author Eoin Colfer’s popular eight-book series, the first of which came out in 2001.

The movie rights to Artemis Fowl were snapped up before the first book was even published, back during the first Young Adult fantasy boom at the turn of the millennium. The film has been a long time coming, with that original boom (defined by franchises such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games) having peaked and waned in the time it took to finally get an Artemis Fowl movie off the ground.

By the time the film was made, it faced another hurdle in the form of the Covid-19 crisis, which saw Artemis Fowl pivot from a theatrical release to a premiere on the Disney+ streaming platform, where it’s available to watch now.

Ferdia Shaw, the grandson of Hollywood legend Robert Shaw (who played Quint in Jaws), stars as the title character, a brilliantly smart and somewhat devious Irish twelve-year-old who shares a name with his father, an “antiquities dealer” played by Colin Farrell.

The plot of the film, which incorporates elements from the first two books in the series, begins with the disappearance of the older Artemis, who has been kidnapped and held for ransom by a shadowy figure in a snowy mountain fortress. His captor seeks a magical artefact known as the Aculos, which holds a sacred significance for fairies.

While the younger Artemis is extraordinarily capable for a twelve-year-old, he does get some help in the form of his father’s faithful bodyguard Domovoi Butler (he’s not a butler), played by Game of Thrones’ Nonso Anozie, and Domovoi’s niece Juliet (Tamara Smart from The Worst Witch).

The society of fairies who live deep in the bowels of the earth also seek possession of the Aculos—they’ve had less than cordial dealings with the Fowls in the past, and it’s a relationship that isn’t helped when Fowl captures a fairy sent to investigate him—Holly Short, whose own father had previously known Artemis senior.

Holly Short looks about Artemis’ age, but she’s actually 84 years old, and is a member of the fairy security force known as the Lower Elemental Police Recon (LEP Recon—geddit?), who covertly come up to the surface to deal with magical problems.

After dealing with a rampaging troll at an Italian wedding, Holly becomes Artemis’ prisoner at his magnificent seaside Irish house, so the LEP Recon come to the surface and stage an all out assault.

Leading that assault is LEP Recon Commander Root (Dame Judi Dench), who recruits oversized dwarf Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) to infiltrate the Fowl homestead with his supernatural digging abilities.

Don’t worry if this sounds a bit bewildering—it all makes sense in the context of the colourful and action-packed film, which is stuffed with amazing creatures, magical technologies, intricate contraptions and some very effective sunglasses.

The film is directed by Kenneth Branagh, and just as with 2011’s Thor, Branagh’s Shakespearean background lends dramatic heft to a popcorn story. The film gains a lot from the involvement of Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express co-stars Dench and Gad, both of whose effortless authenticity help sell the reality of the more fantastical elements.

The worlds glimpsed in Artemis Fowl are truly something to behold, especially the magnificently cavernous Haven City, the largest dwelling in the Lower Elements. Its principal inhabitants, the fairies, are a long way from the benevolent garden-dwellers of old—most of the fairies we meet are part of a hardened military force with brilliant green uniforms and powerful (magical) weaponry.

Two key sequences involve the deployment of their visually dazzling “time freeze” technology, which creates an invisible dome that allows them to take care of business on the surface world without humans becoming aware of their existence.

Although he is often in peril, Artemis’ journey contains a strong sense of childhood wish fulfilment as his eyes are opened up to the fact that magic exists in this world, and he begins to grasp a sense of his true destiny as he learns more about his father’s relationship with the fairies and other magical creatures.

Artemis Fowl is a gleefully subversive embracing of a wide range of Irish folklore tropes, and sets itself apart from previous YA fantasy films by allowing its protagonist to be ever-so-slightly less than virtuous. Charming performances and cutting-edge special effects bring to life a cornucopia of fantasy elements guaranteed to enthral viewers of all ages.