How Disney is selling its latest potential franchise starter.
When Disney greenlit Artemis Fowl, a movie adaptation of the hit 2001 novel, it likely had aspirations of it starting a whole new Harry Potter-esque franchise that would diversify the studio’s top-tier brands outside of Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar. The company’s massive marketing machine could come around the movie and propel it to box-office success, opening the door for sequels covering the rest of the books in the series.
Those hopes might still be in place but the scale might be reduced a bit as the Covid-19 shutdown of the last few months means Artemis Fowl is debuting not on theaters but on Disney+.
The story is focused on the young Artemis Jr. (Ferdia Shaw), the latest in a long line of criminal masterminds who is being groomed by his father Artemis Sr. (Colin Farrell) to one day take over the family business. When Sr. goes missing, Jr. sets out to find him and discovers the job entails more working and dealing with fairies, trolls and other magical creatures than he anticipated. Artemis has to navigate dangers he never imagined with the help of a few trusted allies.
Despite the change in release platform, Disney’s campaign for the movie – directed by Kenneth Branagh – still clearly has the goal of starting a franchise of films that can work for years and span stories.
It’s “Time to believe” according to the first teaser poster (by marketing agency LA) released in November of last year. Below that copy we see Artemis’ face, mostly hidden in the shadows of blue and green lighting, with some kind of strange language reflected in the lenses of his large glasses. It nicely hints at his intelligence as well as the mysteries he’ll be uncovering.
The second poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) came out in March and still reflects the targeted theatrical release date. For the imagery it pulls the camera back for a design that’s very familiar for the “franchise film with a star-studded cast and lots of effects” genre. The supporting characters are arranged around Artemis and a handful of locations are hinted at while in the background a huge vortex is opening that is clearly supernatural and represents the kind of dangerous journey our young adventurer will be embarking on.
An updated version of that poster was released in April to highlight the new Disney+ release strategy and date.
The teaser trailer (6.2 million views on YouTube), released in November, sells a magical journey for young people. A raspy narrator talks about why they were driven underground to avoid the humans as we see a decrepit mansion followed by some sort of incredible city filled with floating vehicles and more. Along with that there’s adventure, archery and more as the dangers Fowl faces become evident.
This isn’t about the father, we’re told as the second trailer (4.6 million views on YouTube) from March opens, it’s about Artemis, the son. He’s grown strong, but when his father disappears Artemis learns his father may not have been the good man he believed him to be. He sets out to find him and learns the truth is more complicated, that his father was also protecting the world, and so enlists allies as he dives into a world filled with magical creatures and amazing adventures.
Online and Social
As has become the norm, the movie’s website is kind of a disappointment, featuring only the barest of information on the story along with the trailer, some photos and not much else.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
On St. Patrick’s Day an “Irish Blessing” video was released showing off the action and adventure the movie had to offer. Around the same time came a featurette that had Branagh and others talking about how they approached the story and brought the books to life on the screen.
In the midst of shifting release dates for a handful of movies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of theaters Disney made the surprising announcement, accompanied by a short promo, that the film would debut exclusively on Disney+.
A “Special Look” came out shortly after that emphasizing the special gear Artemis uses for his rescue mission as well as the friends he enlists for his quest.
Artemis is looking for clues that will lead him to his father’s secrets in the first clip released by Disney in mid-May.
Later that month the first TV spot ran making sure audiences understood this was an epic fantasy adventure they’d be able to stream on Disney+.
Media and Publicity
A first look at Dench and other parts of the movie was part of EW’s 2019 preview issue late last year.
Eoin Colfer, the author of the source book, appeared on “Good Morning, America” in late May to talk about seeing his work come to life and being involved in that process.
Colfer, along with costar Lara McDonnell, did a virtual panel for Book Con to touch on similar subject matter.
The promotional efforts on display here are quite good, setting a solid tone for the audience and selling a story filled with adventure and mystery. That’s a good message to send as it makes lots of promises that the movie can eventually deliver on.
Of particular note here are the trailers and the advertising elements, which are able to show off the spectacle of the movie. The lack of substantive publicity and press efforts are a bit surprising, though given the turmoil washing through the media world it might be that there are simply no more outlets to interview talent.
What’s most capturing my interest, though, is that unlike many of the movies that have gone straight to streaming or VOD recently, this is a big, live-action flick that, as mentioned before, is clearly intended to kick off a cinematic series. It’s one thing for an animated feature, of which there are plenty for all platforms, as well as for low-budget indies and rom-coms.
So the campaign here is a good one, but it’s selling something that has been almost exclusively a theatrical experience. There’s little doubt it will still be popular on Disney+, but it might not be the kind of streaming experience people are looking for.
Picking Up the Spare
The troubled road the movie took during development is covered here, making it seem as if the final version was always destined to be written off as quickly as possible.