“Artemis Fowl” (Disney)

Judi Dench stars in a scene from "Artemis Fowl." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS/Disney Enterprises)

By Catholic News Service

Spectacle trumps story in director Kenneth Branagh’s crowded, off-key screen version of Eoin Colfer’s 2001 fantasy novel for young adults.

After his namesake dad (Colin Farrell), a wealthy, mysterious antiques dealer based in Ireland, is kidnapped by a malevolent pixie (Hong Chau), the brilliant 12-year-old boy of the title (Ferdia Shaw) discovers that the world of Celtic mythology about which his father has been educating him is real. Teaming with Pop’s butler (Nonso Anozie), an elven security officer (Lara McDonnell) and the dwarf (Josh Gad) who serves as the film’s narrator, he seeks out the priceless artefact Dad’s abductor has demanded as a ransom.

The fact that the protagonist is a brainy brat may help to explain why viewers are unlikely to feel much investment in his quest, though screenwriters Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl also fail to lay the groundwork necessary for audience sympathy. Their predictable pro-tolerance theme is also put across feebly. While acceptable for all but easily frightened tots, the poorly structured proceedings never overcome the disconnect between the script’s earnest tone and the inherent silliness of many of its non-human characters.

Much bloodless combat, brief scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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