The ‘Artemis Fowl’ Movie Changes Some Characters, But Director Kenneth Branagh Says It’s Still The Story You Love

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A budding evil mastermind, a hidden world of fairies, and a few intriguing family mysteries — Artemis Fowl, the 2001 hit YA novel from author Eoin Colfer, had it all. And now, the beloved book is making it's way to the big screen, courtesy of Disney. But the Artemis Fowl movie won't look like the book you might remember, in fact, as director Kenneth Branagh tells reporters during a visit to the London set in April of 2018, many Artemis Fowl characters have been slightly altered for the film — and that's a good thing.

Fans of the book series will remember the novel to be about a young boy, Artemis, who is desperate to fulfill his family legacy by becoming an evil mastermind and solving the mystery of what happened to his father. And it all starts with a quest to kidnap a fairy. The plot of the film stays pretty true to the source material. However, while the character of Artemis remains largely the same in the film, played by Irish newcomer Ferdia Shaw, other characters like Butler and Commander Holly Short might look different than how fans imagined.

"We asked Eoin up front, you know, 'We'd like to be free to bring as much imagination to the casting as possible,'" Branaugh explains, standing in the library of the Fowl Manor. Take Butler, for example, the role of Artemis' bodyguard/chaperone/accomplice. "[Colfer] describes in the book Butler as 'Eurasian,'" he goes on. (In the book, Colfer notes that Butler's "Eurasian" identity helps him blend in wherever Artemis takes them.) But, the director had always envisioned black actor Nonso Anozie, who worked with Branaugh on Disney's live action Cinderella, in the part, and cast him as such. And Butler isn't the only character who has changed for the film adaptation.

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Commander Root, the fairy head of the LEPrecon, is no longer a Mr. Root, but a Ms., played by Judi Dench, in a gender swap might surprise fans. "Judi Dench is not the male that [Root is] in the book," Branagh acknowledges, "But at the same time you could say, 'The character's a fairy.' So, you know, male fairy, female fairy..." The director trails off before reminding the reporters on set, "We asked Eoin if we could have that kind of license and he said, 'Let's do it.'"

Holly Short, the LEPrecon fairy who is captured by Artemis, has been aged down for the film. No longer an adult, she appears as a child (or tween, as it were), played by young actor Lara McDonnell. It's a choice that Branaugh assures reporters was fueled by creative license to make Artemis "less isolated," and not just the fact that it opens the door for potential sequels. Though, if Artemis Fowl fans should demand a sequel, the filmmaker admits, "If it works, they can sort of grow up together."

Fans of the book will also note that Dench's addition to the cast means a significant change in Holly's character arc, namely that she won't be the first ever female LEPrecon Commander. But Brannagh is confident that fans will still get to see Holly Short make her own significant mark on the LEPrecon team. "We don't make life any simpler for her in terms of progress," the director says. "There are plenty of obstacles — systemic and sometimes male — that get in her way, and that extends, to some extent, to the character of Commander Root as well."

Though Holy Short does not appear on the newly released first poster for the film, nor does she seem to appear in the trailer, it's clear that, despite any changes, she's still going to be a major player in the story of Artemis Fowl.

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Per Disney, the official synopsis of the film is as follows:

"Disney’s Artemis Fowl, based on the beloved book by Eoin Colfer, is a fantastical, spellbinding adventure that follows the journey of 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl, a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds, as he seeks to find his father who has mysteriously disappeared. With the help of his loyal protector Butler, Artemis sets out to find him, and in doing so uncovers an ancient, underground civilization—the amazingly advanced world of fairies. Deducing that his father’s disappearance is somehow connected to the secretive, reclusive fairy world, cunning Artemis concocts a dangerous plan—so dangerous that he ultimately finds himself in a perilous war of wits with the all-powerful fairies."

The characters of Artemis Fowl might not look exactly how you imagined reading the book, but rest assured, their conflicts and, most importantly, their relationships remain the same. The adaptation hits theaters on Aug. 9, 2019.