Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler

Director: David Yates

Synopsis: From the pen and paper of J. K. Rowling comes another epic series from the wizarding world. Wizard Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, lands in New York City in 1926 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone universe) with a suitcase full of magical creatures, in an attempt to acquire another magical creature. Inevitably, soon after arriving in the city, Newt loses one, then another, and then ALL of the magical creatures from his suitcase and they run amok in New York, much to the dismay of the very regimented and terrifying Magical Congress of the Unites States of America. Fantastic Beasts chronicles the zany adventures Newt undertakes with a baker named Jacob and a disliked employee of the Magical Congress, in order to rescue his escaped magical creatures and restore order to the chaos that is happening in New York City. Not only are Newt’s creatures running lose in the city, a terrible evil has descended on New York City that threatens both non-wizard (no-maj) and wizard life as they know it.

Review:

J. K. Rowling presents her screenwriting debut with this brilliantly scripted fable that brings the Harry Potter Series to the pre-depression era United States. Directed by the Harry Potter series stalwart David Yates, this new direction for the series turns in a new direction. The generally dark Harry Potter movies has been replaced by the much more whimsical Fantastic Beasts, and while there is its fair share of darker scenes, this film holds much more uplifting humour and fun than the original Harry Potter movies held. Despite this change in direction, the movie’s entertainment value remains incredibly high and movie goers of all ages will appreciate the wit and whimsy within the confines of Fantastic Beasts’ New York City.

Introducing a whole new cast of characters, good and evil, Rowling yet again sets the stage for a wide range of acting styles in the movie. Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, the main character wizard who has a passion and vast knowledge of the magical creatures that inhabit earth in the 1920s. Redmayne’s awkward manner in the film lends itself to a hilarious journey and one truly believes he loves each and every creature in his suitcase, despite his difficulty in keeping his creatures safely locked inside. My only issue with the quirky character played by Redmayne, was that I found, often, it was difficult to understand what he was saying because of his frantic, quiet manner of speech. This led to a real disconnect to the character he was attempting to play as I spent so much time trying to decipher what he was saying and less time sympathizing with him. A strong supporting cast that includes Dan Fogler as a bumbling no-maj baker and Colin Farrell, terrifying head of security for the magical government in New York, brings the movie together into a strong mix of good versus evil. Adding a motley crew of magical creatures such as the niffler, a platypus style creature with a penchant for shiny objects, and a huge list of other surprise animals that hide in Newt’s suitcase, and you have the makings of yet another successful Harry Potter style movie franchise.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fun filled story for all ages from start to finish. Even if you are not a devout fan of the wizarding movies, the slapstick comedy mixed with stunning visual effects is sure to entertain even the serious movie critic. Excellent use of CGI and the usual creative mastery of Rowling’s characters give the audience two solid hours of visual hilarity. The story is not just a visual masterpiece, however.  A complex narrative develops throughout the course of the movie that alludes to a whole new series of movies to come. Newt, the affable, clumsy animal lover becomes ensnared with the Magical Congress and its complicated legal presence in New York. The wizarding world is much different in New York than in the England of Harry Potter. Wizards are hated and persecuted in America and the magical creatures that Newt endeavours to rescue and protect are also, in turn, hated by the wizards and are being systematically destroyed. Once we are past the animal rights motif of the movie, one moves into the persecution of the public by the church and the treatment of magical people in New York. The darker themes that mirror society as a whole gives one pause that there are going to be future movies relating to these topics.

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Of course no expense was spared in the use of CGI and special effects. As is typical with the Harry Potter franchise, the movie is filled with special effects that rival any effects in the movie world. The creatures themselves, the fantastical version of New York City and the magic throughout the movie is seamlessly prepared and captivating. To accompany the visual appeal is the amazing music of James Howard, who has composed music for such films as Maleficent, The Hunger Games franchise and many of the Batman franchise movies, new and old. Music suited to the film is such an important part of a successful franchise and James Howard does not disappoint.

Movies have slowly been lengthening as the years go by and Fantastic Beasts is no exception. Clocking in at 2 hours and 13 minutes, the movie pushes the limits for a movie aimed at children. Despite the length of the movie and the average preteen age of the film during my viewing, the plot maintains enough motion and action to keep the audience’s attention right to the end. For children under 10 years of age, I feel the length of the film may be pushing their attention span. For grown up fans of the film, we always hope for just 10 more minutes to develop the story more, but I felt walking out of the theatre that I had gotten enough of a glimpse of the plot to be satiated. Of course the late introduction of new characters and the open ending leads to sequels, of which it is no surprise that several sequels are planned. My only complaint is that so much of the story was used up chasing creatures and the slap stick comedy that accompanied it, that the true story of the terrible and imminent danger surrounding New York is pushed to the side and nearly forgotten in much of the film.

Fantastic Beasts is an entertaining movie that gets a lot of its popularity from big brother franchise Harry Potter. Despite some failings in the story and difficulty relating to the main character because of his mannerism and speech, I left the film feeling entertained, if not dazzled. The film will continue to see success on the heels of the Harry Potter franchise, and if the characters and story continue to develop further in the next installment of the movies, it will continue to be popular and add to the repertoire of J. K. Rowling and her magical world. I give this movie a solid 3.5 Wheels Up.

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