This weekend I decided to try out Disney’s Artemis Fowl, available for free with a Disney+ streaming subscription.
At first, I was confused to find this full-length feature available for free. It was originally slated to hit theatres May 29th in classic summer blockbuster style. With Trolls Worldwide making 100 million dollars from video-on-demand sales, it seemed like a weird decision.
Maybe not though. According to Screen Rant, Disney+ is struggling for content. It makes sense. When Covid19 hit, families were stuck at home and $6.99 a month to unlock ALL of Disney seemed like a pretty good deal at the time.
Apparently most people agreed. According to Variety, over half of American households with young children had signed up for Disney+ by mid-March. Sounds great, right? The problem is three months into a nostalgia marathon, you start running out of classics. I know we did.
Ultimately, Disney’s decision to stream Artemis Fowl for free (and then advertise it relentlessly) probably makes sense in the larger scheme of things. After all, we kept our Disney+ subscription for another month in order to check it out.
Getting to the point: Did I like the movie? Of course, I freaking did. Heck, I loved the dang thing. It was free. Free is my favorite type of everything.
Aside from the price though (I REALLY liked the price), another big thing I liked about this movie was getting to discuss it with my kids.
See, back when I was a youngling myself I remember reading Artemis Fowl and realizing–between the kidnapping, extortion, and giant fairy cage pre-built into his house–that Artemis Fowl wasn’t your normal leading dude.
And thankfully, some of this leaked into the movie. After watching it my eldest informed me that it “felt like the kid was the bad guy because he stole the elf girl.” From there, we were able to have an organic discussion on narrative POV, and the fact that assuming all protagonists are automatically “good guys” isn’t always true. It was a solid talk.
The other thing I loved? Josh Gad!! Throughout this movie, you can tell that he’s really enjoying himself and not taking it too seriously. He does a weird, deep, Christian-Bale-as-Batman voice. It had me rolling on the ground with glee every time he came on screen.
There’s also a hilarious scene where his character, Mulch Diggums, openly hits on Dame Judy Dench for like five minutes straight. It’s easily worth half the price of any movie ticket on its own. Finally, (and maybe this is just me) but I found Mr. Gad was surprisingly hot with long hair, guy-liner, and a beard.
Alright, enough positives. Time for the downside.
First up: casting.
Artemis Fowl, the titular character, is depicted as an outrageously brilliant young man, a once in a lifetime intellect who beats a Chess Grandmaster in six moves and clones his first sheep while in middle school. That’s all great and completely believable… right up until you realize Colin Ferrel is playing his father.
Second major issue: allotment of time.
At the beginning of the movie, there’s a major rewrite in Artemis’ call to action. Rather than dealing with much of the book’s nuanced motivations, the movie gives Artemis a far simpler goal–save his kidnapped father from a shadowy enemy. In order to do this, he’s stuck in a classic quid pro quo: locate and hand-over a powerful fairy weapon in exchange for his father’s life.
With only three days to accomplish this, Artemis sets out on a rather convoluted path. He begins by assembling a team, decoding a few generation’s worth of family secrets, and then kidnaps an innocent person himself.
This decision sets off a whole side-plot that takes up 90% of the movie. In the end, when he finally saves his father it’s with astonishingly little fuss.
Third issue: there were a lot of sloppy transitions and convenient exposition. At one point the fairy army is stunned to learn Artemis knows all about their time-freeze technology. But how could he, a human, possibly have known about their fairy tech??? Well, as the audience saw thirty seconds prior, his father told him while they were going on a walk, dontcha-know!
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the world’s worst writing. It’s just cheap in the same way all Batman/Sherlock Holmes/Smartest-Person-in-the-Room stories are cheap. How could the Main Character possibly know the one devastating flaw that would totally dismantle the bad guy’s entire plan??? Because the author wrote ’em to know it. Duh.
Whatever. Considering how often this ploy is used, I can’t exactly fault them–especially in a kid’s movie. What I can’t write off so easily, however, is the paper-thin character motivations.
You see problems like this a lot with book-to-movie rewrites. In whittling down the story, major plot points that explained the character’s decision are often sliced out. The movie still tries to hit the same “big action” sequences though. What’s lost, therefore, is the reason for these moments.
I would once again give this a pass, except here’s the problem: even my freaking kids noticed it!
“Momma, why did the elf girl help Artemis?” and “Momma, why did the Commander let everyone come back after they betrayed her?” were some of the many questions I had difficulty answering by the end of the movie.
Part of the simple beauty of any kid’s movie is how easy it is to root for the characters. Moana must save her village. The TMNT must save New York. The good guys have good reasons to fight. The audience roots for the good guys and when they win, we feel good about it. Applause, applause… roll credits. Right?
In theory, there’s a simple motivation here: Artemis needs to save his father. But to do that he kidnaps a fairy woman… and then fights off the fairy army… and then they both join sides to fight off a troll… and then there’s a military coup…
Eh. Again, we’re talking about a free movie. The fact that it was over an hour long and had good CGI was more than I necessarily feel entitled to. In truth, it was funny and fun even when it didn’t make much sense.
I think my youngest may have had the healthiest take of all:
“Did you like the movie, sweetie?”
“I loved it! Especially the parts with magic and flying!”