Brow Beat

All Your Questions About the Upcoming Artemis Fowl Movie, Answered

Judi Dench wears a green helmet, coat, and belt. She has pointed ears.
Judi Dench as Commander Root. Nicola Dove/Disney Enterprises Inc.

On Monday, Disney dropped the first trailer for Artemis Fowl, suddenly plunging millions of nostalgic twentysomethings across the globe back into its world of codes, elves, and farting dwarves. The movie, based on the bestselling fantasy book series by Irish author Eoin Colfer, has been in the works for almost two decades, and after multiple delays, it will finally be released on May 29. Kenneth Branagh is in the director’s chair, while the cast includes the likes of Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, and Hong Chau.

If you’re a former fan struggling to remember the details of Artemis Fowl because it’s been so long since you first read the books—or if you were too old for the books when they were published and just missed the phenomenon altogether—here’s what you need to know.

What is Artemis Fowl, and does it have anything to do with chickens?

It does not. Artemis Fowl follows the travails of a 12-year-old criminal mastermind named Artemis Fowl, who uncovers an underground world filled with militant elves, paranoid centaurs, goblin gangs, and an organization called the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance force, or LEPRecon (pun very much intended). There are eight novels total in the primary series, along with a companion guide, a stand-alone story, and a spinoff series that kicked off just last year.

So it’s basically Harry Potter in a suit?

Not really, although due to the timing of the book releases, the audiences for the Harry Potter books and Artemis Fowl definitely overlapped. When the first Artemis book came out in 2001, people pointed out the similarities between the two series—but author Eoin Colfer rejected that comparison, preferring to think of his book as “Die Hard with fairies.” (This perhaps refers to the fact that Artemis kidnaps a major character for ransom.)

Unlike poor, abused Harry Potter, young Artemis starts off as the wealthy, ruthless head of a family criminal enterprise formerly run by his father, who’s thought to be dead. With his bodyguard, Butler, Artemis slowly becomes more integrated into the fantasy world below, halting world-domination plans, learning family secrets, and gradually breaking out of his evil self-conception and becoming more inclined toward friendship and compassion and decency.

How do you pronounce “Eoin”?

Like “Owen.”

Does Artemis have supernatural powers, or is he just a sort of precocious child-Batman?

The latter. He does come into contact with more magical powers later in the series, but he is not born with them, nor does he attend Hogwarts.

Who exactly is the villain here? It sounds like this Artemis maybe isn’t such a good guy.

Well, Artemis starts off as an antihero, cocky and devoted to his own interests (although, as is revealed in the first book, part of the reason he hatches his elaborate plot is to help out his mother). As the series goes on, he ends up having to ally with the elves he once tried to extort. The point: Heroes and villains are not always who you think they may be.

Who is this series popular with? Young millennials? Gen Z? Both?

The series has been popular with younger readers since the first novel’s initial publication in 2001, with 25 million copies sold, translated into 44 languages. Colfer’s firm, Artemis Fowl Ltd., continues to earn millions of euros in revenue every year. People like the books! Especially kids. I myself read the first five books, along with The Artemis Fowl Files, back in my middle school years, 2006–08. (Sorry to the Olds reading this.)

If the books are so popular, why did it take almost 20 years for Disney to make a movie?

Miramax was interested in a film adaptation soon after the book came out, but that other fantasy series was becoming rapidly popular, which was not great timing for a series people kept calling “the new Harry Potter.” The project went through multiple prospective directors and writers before plunging into development hell. In 2013, Disney announced a production partnership with the Weinstein Company to finally get the film made, which was terminated after the accusations against Harvey Weinstein came to light. Disney then finalized casting in early 2018, and a teaser trailer dropped later that same year. The film was originally supposed to be released on Aug. 9 last year, but was then delayed again to the current release date. Will May 29 hold up? I guess we’ll see!

Speaking of trailers, was that Judi Dench I saw playing an … alien? An elf? An alien elf?

The fan site Artemis Fowl Confidential has a very thorough breakdown of the trailer for die-hards. For less meticulous newcomers, you need to know that Judi Dench stars as the character Commander Root, the elf who leads LEPRecon. In the books Commander Root is male; the gender swap for the movie was conceived of by Branagh and approved by Colfer.

That one other character looks like Hagrid, except now Hagrid is played by Josh Gad?

The Hagrid you speak of is the dwarf Mulch Diggums, and he is indeed played by Josh Gad. In the books, he’s a memorable character, known for his ruthlessly efficient digging ability, his flatulence, and general good cheer.

Why do the heroes dress like they’re in Men in Black?

The humans, Artemis and Butler, are all pretty schmancy, extremely upper-class guys who like to dress nicely, so that fashion choice is apt. But remember, the elf and dwarf heroes here have probably never heard of Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones, and thus do not attempt to replicate their style.

How will the plot of the movie differ from the books?

The movie is ostensibly an adaption of the first book, but there seems to be one key, significant difference. In Artemis Fowl, the protagonist starts out as a cunning little shit who’s already well integrated into the criminal lifestyle. In the movie, it appears as though we will see Artemis’ character start out more innocent and gradually become that bad guy as Butler teaches him what his dad actually did for a living and Artemis comes to grips with the whole enterprise.

Should I recognize this kid playing Artemis Fowl from somewhere?

No, since this is the first feature role listed for young Irish actor Ferdia Shaw, who is apparently nicknamed “Da FerdZ.” According to Artemis Fowl Confidential, the young lad has starred in a few short films, but this one seems poised to be his breakout. He does come from royal acting lineage, however: He is the grandson of Robert Shaw, who had prominent roles in classic films like From Russia With Love, The Sting, and Jaws, and was nominated for an Oscar for playing Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons.

Should I be excited for Artemis Fowl?

If you are a young child who loves fantasy or an adult who appreciates Kenneth Branagh’s most recent output, then sure.

Are you, a former Artemis Fowl reader and fan, excited for this movie?

I have mixed feelings! The nostalgia trip is nice, but I’m not sure it’ll capture the tough moral questions that were so compelling in the books.

Still: farting dwarves.

You’ve got me there.