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How different is Disney+'s Artemis Fowl film to the books?

Disney+’s new adaptation takes some major liberties with the Eoin Colfer novel.

Artemis Fowl
Published: Friday, 12th June 2020 at 10:00 am

After years of delays, an adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s fantasy novel Artemis Fowl has finally arrived, with newcomer Ferdia Shaw playing the boy-genius mastermind who takes on magical creatures as the film arrives on Disney+.


But will fans of Colfer’s books enjoy this version? Having watched the film, there are some pretty major changes made between the original source material and the film, with characters altered and major storylines invented to bring the story to screen.

Whether that’ll affect viewers’ enjoyment is another matter, of course – but for anyone curious about exactly what’s different, we’ve assembled some of the biggest changes below, avoiding specific plot spoilers as much as possible.

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The story

Butler, Holly, Mulch, Artemis

Some elements of the book’s story – primarily Artemis’ mission to kidnap and hold ransom a fairy – remain in the film, but the context they exist within is very different.

The book’s story is, simply, that a genius child learns of the existence of an advanced fairy society and kidnaps one, forcing a long siege by the technically-advanced LEP (Lower Elements Police) who worry about their existence being revealed to the world. Artemis wants their gold, as well as a possible magic cure for his sick, grieving mother.

In the film, Artemis only learns of the fairies’ existence when his father is abducted by one of them and family servant Butler (Nonso Anozie) reveals his father’s secret work investigating and defending fairy interests.

The key artefact of the film sought by both heroes and villains – the Aculos – is also a new invention for the film, though it does have a subtle link to Colfer’s text. Shaped like an acorn, it seems likely that the Aculos’ design is a nod to the acorn Holly uses to regain her magic in the Artemis Fowl novel, which marks a turning point in that narrative.

Certain elements of the story (including the rescue of Colin Farrell’s Artemis Fowl Sr. and the villain Opal Koboi) appear to be drawn from 2002 sequel The Arctic Incident, though beyond the characters’ inclusion the storyline bears little resemblance to that book.

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl

Some parts of Artemis’ character remain very similar to the book – his exchange with a psychologist referencing his fake antique chair is lifted directly from the page – but there are also some subtle differences.

The film version of Artemis appears more athletic and well-adjusted than the book version, enjoying surfing and other outdoor activities (a running joke in the books relates to Artemis’ lack of physical prowess) and seeming less driven by personal greed and arrogance. Generally speaking he’s a warmer, more emotional individual than the antihero Colfer created.

In the books, it’s also noted that the young Artemis insists on wearing a suit at all times, while the film Artemis only dons one later on for slightly unclear reasons.


Domovoi Butler

The Fowl family’s faithful servant Butler appears in the books as a deadly weapons expert, bodyguard and aide-de-camp to Artemis, who ends up battling magical creatures and a troll in service to his young master.

One crucial difference in the film is Butler’s name – while the books make a point of concealing his first name until his apparent death in one of the sequels (the idea being that a member of the esteemed Butler family never reveals their Christian name to their employer), the Disney+ movie rather casually has characters refer to him as Domovoi or even “Dom” throughout.

We also meet another Butler, Juliet, in the film. In the books Juliet is Butler’s teenage sister, still in training to become a bodyguard – here’s she’s his niece and is younger, the same age as Artemis.

Holly Short

Holly Short Artemis Fowl

LEPRecon Captain Holly Short is a slightly less central character in the film than she is in the book, though the silver screen version does get a new backstory.

In the film Holly is the daughter of Beechwood Short, a notorious traitor who she’s determined to exonerate. Beechwood Short does not exist in the Artemis Fowl series of novels, while Holly’s friendly relationship with Artemis (as seen in the film’s trailers) only develops in later stories.

Commander Root

Judi Dench Root

One of the outwardly most altered characters, in the books Julius Root is a red-faced, cigar-chomping male fairy who acts as Holly’s hard-as-nails superior.

In the film, he’s transmogrified into Dame Judi Dench’s older, female version of the character – though the characterisation and role of Root remains remarkably similar despite this change.

Mulch Diggums

Mulch Diggums in Artemis Fowl

Josh Gad plays kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggums in Artemis Fowl, and the on-screen character shares a lot with his book counterpart. Both Mulches have the dwarven ability to dislocate their jaws and tunnel through solid Earth, and are temporarily sprung from prison to help in the Fowl Manor siege.

There are a few differences, though. A running gag in the film is that Gad’s dwarf is unusually tall – human-size, in fact – which does not feature in the book. He also possesses an ability to manipulate his beard hair and pick locks which is expanded from the novel, where his hair is just hard and easy to manipulate.

A scene where Mulch takes on a crew of goblins and disables one by shoving his fingers up his noise is lifted directly from Colfer’s novel, as is the prison they were in, Howler’s Peak.

The Fowl family

Colin Farrell in Artemis Fowl

In the original Artemis Fowl book the titular character’s father had been missing, presumed dead for a while, leaving the young Artemis with his servant Butler and a grieving, mentally unwell mother.

In the film this shifts, with Artemis’ mother (who appears in several of the books) said to have died some time ago, and his father still present and part of the family. Only later is his father kidnapped, and not by the Mafia as in the books – onscreen, it’s an errant fairy called Opal Koboi who takes him hostage.

The Artemis Fowl senior of the movie is also quite different to his novel counterpart. That Mr Fowl was a famed crime lord from a long line of villains, who Artemis hopes to live up to – Farrell’s version is an art dealer revealed to have pulled off some heists, but for noble aims.

The villains 

The film’s villain Opal Koboi is not present in the first book, only cropping up in various sequels as a genius Pixie industrialist who tries to take over Fairy society with various schemes.

Here, she’s presented as a hooded, voice-distorted figure with a vague aim to transport armies to Earth, and already appears to have been unmasked as a bad apple prior to the events of the film.

Her sidekick Briar Cudgeon (Josh Maguire) also faces some subtle changes. Cudgeon enters the film as a disgraced ex-LEP officer who is quickly returned to his post by Opal, spying for her as the LEP hunt for the Aculos. Later, he takes over the operation from Root and sends a troll into Fowl Manor, nearly killing his colleague Holly.

Some of this comes directly from the book, where Cudgeon similarly took over from Root and sent in the troll – however he wasn’t already disgraced (that only happened after his terrible leadership), and didn’t team up with Opal Koboi until sequel The Arctic Incident.

The magical world

LEP officers in Artemis Fowl

Branagh’s film is fairly faithful to the worldbuilding of Colfer’s books, including a host of species (including the elves like Holly, fire-conjuring goblins, angry trolls and tunnelling dwarves) that appear more or less how they’re described in the books.

The technology of the LEP (designed by centaur Foaly, played by Nikesh Patel) is also often ripped right from the pages of the novels, with Colfer’s mechanical wings, iris-cameras, lava-powered transport and time-stop technology taken wholesale across the different mediums.

Fairy capital Haven City also appears largely as it was described on the page, though some parts of the underground society don’t make the transition. The Ritual used to replenish magic isn’t mentioned and neither is fairy bible The Book (a stolen copy of which is the source of Artemis’ knowledge) despite their central importance in Colfer’s novel.

They are referenced for die-hard fans, though – the former gets a nod via the Aculos (see above), while the latter may be included via one line spoken towards the end of the film: “You know I’m breaking every rule in The Book?”

Finally, crucial element does make the transition. Colfer’s iconic fairy swear word. – D’Arvit – is uttered a few times by various characters, in an unusual display of profanity (albeit fictional profanity) among the Disney+ catalogue.


Artemis Fowl is streaming on Disney+ now


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