Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo
Author and first time screenwriter, J.K. Rowling says “Fantastic Beasts” isn’t a prequel to her Harry Potter story, but I think fans will beg to differ when they get goosebumps from hearing names like Dumbledore, Strange, and Grindelwald. Rowling thrusts us back into the magical world of wizards with an entirely new set of characters, taking places 70 years before Harry Potter first set foot in Hogwarts. Major differences in this series, the most obvious being it’s set in America. This time around the plot focuses on adults rather than children. Director David Yates adds a fourth film in the series to his resume as he aids Rowling reintroducing the audience to new rules, dialogue, characters and creatures.
Nearly the very moment wizard Newt Scamander (Redmayne) sets his leather-bound boot on the streets of New York in 1926, he causes chaos. The suitcase that he is carrying contains an entire world of fantastic beasts that are literally busting at the seams to roam free. He has arrived in America at a turbulent time, with the disappearance of criminal Gellert Grindelwald and the mysterious exploding buildings caused by a dangerous obscurus. Newt, an expelled Hogwarts student, loses some of the contents from his bag and requires the help of a no-maj (aka Mugle) Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) to capture them. Tina (Waterson,) former Auror working for the Magical Congress of the United States of America, first considers the shy and introverted Newt a threat, but comes to understand the importance of his work and timely visit.
Yates carries over the same darkness and maturity we grew to love in the latter “Potter” pictures.
For those few unfamiliar with the wizarding world of Harry Potter, “Fantastic Beasts” will be an exciting and adventurous introduction, likely to leave them wanting to know more about Rowling’s wonderful creations. Unlike the first two “Harry Potter” films that function exclusively as “children’s movies”, we don’t have to wait on Alfonso Cuarón to come in and make things darker this time around. Yates carries over the same darkness and maturity we grew to love in the latter “Potter” pictures. There is wonderful internal commentary from a British author looking at how strict American rules and regulations are. For example, wizards traveling to the US must have a wand permit. American wizards function quite differently than the modern European wizards we are familiar with. Rowling’s screenplay has a lot of fun playing with the differences between the two countries.
Oscar winner Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) deserves recognition for his delightful performance that has a specific British accent, curious walk and the scene where he does an unforgettable mating dance. Morton (“In America”) and Miller (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) also stand out as extremely well, cast as the darker elements tin the story. The rest of the characters don’t yet feel as iconic as the ones we were first introduced to in the “Harry Potter” series. “Fantastic Beasts” doesn’t revolve around Newt the way Harry was the central figure in the original films. This feels more episodic, as if the second film could have an entire new cast in a new city or country. Die-hards will love hearing familiar characters’ names and enjoy contemplating how they might appear or influence future plotlines. “Fantastic Beasts” does overdue it a bit on the destruction special effects. There are less quiet and intimate moments here, traded for larger set piece sequences. This film isn’t afraid of killing characters or playing off darker moments, Rowling understands many of her early readers are now adults and this feels like a reward for their loyalty.
A gratifying introduction to a new journey in the wizarding world we love so much.