'Artemis Fowl': How the film differs from the book and why it's not the new Harry Potter

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Kenneth Branagh and Colin Ferrell on the set of Disney's ARTEMIS FOWL.

Sir Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s teen fantasy novel Artemis Fowl is launching on Disney+ on 12 June. It tells the story of a precocious young boy who find himself thrown into a fantastical world of magic, fairies, dwarves and elves that co-exists alongside our own.

The film adaptation of Artemis Fowl was first announced in 2001 as Harry Potter fever was reaching fever pitch. Shooting had wrapped on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – the best-selling fourth instalment in JK Rowling’s blockbusting book series - was selling like hot cakes.

Every studio in Hollywood wanted a piece of the action, and many teen fantasy films were rushed into production, but Artemis Fowl took a while longer to come together and finally went before cameras in 2018. Originally scheduled for release in 2019, then pushed back to 2020, its theatrical release was eventually cancelled as the coronavirus pandemic closed cinemas around the world.

Read more: Everything coming to Disney+ in June

However, one of its stars – Josh Gad who plays the burglar dwarf Mulch Diggums – says comparisons to Harry Potter are unfair, but he hopes Artemis Fowl could fill the gap for Potter fans who miss the series.

“I'm obsessed with Harry Potter. I grew up with the books, I grew up with the movies. There hasn't been a Harry Potter in a long time - new Harry Potter. This feels like the answer to that,” Gad explained between takes when Yahoo visited the set back in 2018.

Josh Gad is Mulch Diggums in Disney's ARTEMIS FOWL

“I can't tell you how many people come up to me, who tell me how important the Artemis Fowl books were to them as a kid. In many ways, I think Artemis is almost the antithesis to Harry. Whereas Harry is an empty vessel, who's going on this journey of discovery. And there's an innocence, that along the way becomes a little bit darkened by his experiences.”

Read more: Behind the scenes on Artemis Fowl

In Colfer’s books, of which there have now been eight instalments, young Artemis Fowl (played in the film by newcomer Ferdia Shaw) is presented as a young supervillain who is an antagonist to the world of fairies.

Related video: Watch a new Artemis Fowl clip below...

Artemis develops into an anti-hero as the books progress, but many fans of the series have expressed surprise that the new film – or its trailers at least – seems to present him as a more traditional Potter-esque hero.

Game of Thrones star Nonso Anozie, who plays Artemis Fowl’s right hand man Domovoi Butler, concedes that changes have been made to the story for the big screen.

Ferdia Shaw is Artemis Fowl and Lara McDonnell is Holly Short in Disney's ARTEMIS FOWL.

“There’s a few changes from the book to the film,” Anozie explained. “But I think what we’ve grasped in this, is that it’s an adventure right from the beginning. I mean, right from the start it really, really moves fast.”

Changes to the source material come with Colfer’s blessing though, said director Kenneth Branagh.

“We told him inevitably that we’ve - in the spirit of the book - I believe, amended or changed a few things that are to do with the translation of a book into a film, especially for a first time audience as amazingly popular as they’ve been, it will be the first time a lot of people will see it.

(L-R) Book author Eoin Colfer, Ferdia Shaw, director Kenneth Branagh on the set of Disney's ARTEMIS FOWL. Photo by Nicola Dove. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“So we’ve all that in mind, and we’ve come up with a couple of things, and the first thing he said was ‘god, I wish I’d thought of that!’”

He added that he studied 90-minute thrillers while prepping the film to imbue the film with some brevity.

“I hope that the film, like the book and books, is very rapid, very punchy, and pacy,” Branagh explained.

“I think one of the ways in which he manages to keep us very intrigued by a series of beautifully improbable things is that he moves at a pace which means that you just even if – as it were – you disagreed with the conception, you are thrilled by the execution.

Judy Dench and Kenneth Branagh on the set of Disney's ARTEMIS FOWL.

“And you have times to breathe, but I think it’s going to be something that really, really grabs the audience and makes you move right from the beginning, and, you know, doesn’t let you go until the end.”

Other major changes from the book include the gender-flipping of Commander Root, the leader of the fairy police force LEP-Recon, who is played by Judi Dench, despite being a man in the books. Domovoi Butler is described as “eurasian” in the book, while Nonso Anozie is of Nigerian descent. His character also has a shock of white hair and bright blue eyes, and speaks with a cut glass English accent, rather than Irish.

“I think the look is so different, also to speak in an Irish accent would make it too extreme,” adds Anozie.

Jud Dench is Commander Root and Josh Gad is Mulch Diggums in Disney's ARTEMIS FOWL

Even Gad’s character, the kleptomaniac Mulch Diggums, has undergone a change. In the film he’s a giant dwarf, rather than a regular-sized one. “He's like a dwarfed version of Han Solo,” explained Gad. “He's an outsider, looking for a way to fit in. He doesn't belong. And that's something that I think is very personal to him. He's searching for his place. And I think when he finds this ragtag group, he identifies them as similar to him, in a way that draws him.”

However extreme Branagh’s changes to the source material may prove, Gad argues that the film is sticking close to Colfer’s original vision.

“Artemis starts, almost at the end of Harry [Potter’s] journey. And Artemis is wise beyond his years, he doesn't have the magical abilities of Harry. So has to compensate for it with an intellect that allows him to tap into magic.

“And at the same time, he's very manipulative. And he uses that manipulation in order to amass this incredible plot. The writer once described this book as, ‘Die Hard with fairies’. Well, the Alan Rickman character, in many ways, is Artemis Fowl himself.

Ferdia Shaw is Artemis Fowl and Lara McDonnell is Holly Short in Disney's ARTEMIS FOWL

“And that's what's so unique about this world. Is when do you get to see a kid, who is essentially an anti-hero in many ways? And we're all trying to be one step ahead of him. But he has an uncanny ability to outsmart even the wisest amongst us. Which is why, when Mulch comes in, it's such a fun loophole.

“Because he doesn't expect them to throw something like this at them. So it's really fun. And I think that again, it speaks to a crowd and an audience that is desperately longing for something to fill that void.”

Artemis Fowl launches on Disney+ on 12 June.