The trailers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them promised a rich and imaginative story steeped in the Harry Potter universe and magic. Not only did it deliver on that promise in full but it was adventurous, humorous and full of mystery.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) a magizoologist has just arrived in New York City after a global tour where he has collected an assortment of strange and wondrous creatures so that he can write a book about them. The year is 1926 and he arrives at a time of great danger, with the United States Ministry Macusa afraid of discovery by a group of extremists, the New Salem Philanthropic Society, led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) calling for a second Salem. The Ministry has enacted laws prohibiting wizards from owning magical creatures and are attempting to keep wizards a secret from No-Majs or Muggles, non-magic users. And through a news reel montage, we learn that the Wizarding world is also in danger from a dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald who is on the rise.
As soon as Newt steps into the city, he encounters a No-Maj, Jacob Wolkawski (Dan Fogler). The two manage to switch cases causing Newt to lose track of some of his acquisitions and have a run in with a local investigator with the Magical Congress Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). Newt gets help from Jacob and Tina to locate his missing beasts with Tina’s mind reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) assisting. They must avoid wizard cop Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and his unwilling acolyte Credence (Ezra Miller), the abused son of Mary Lou of the 2nd Salemers. Graves is willing to have Newt’s creatures blamed for the death of a human while he hunts for the true culprit for his own purposes. And if Newt and his friends don’t manage contain his pets; a war will explode between humans and the wizarding world.
J.K. Rowling and director David Yates have kept the magic of Harry Potter alive in this story. Not only have they crafted a fun, adventurous tale of Newt Scamander but they’ve also managed to weave in commentary on fear and bigotry that speaks to events in recent times. The story is complex yet retaining a sense of fun and humor. A mystery is woven into the chase for the creatures and parts of it kept me guessing until the reveal. There is a diversity to the characters and the world that is missing in other genre films with one of my favorite bits being when the characters stop in a local speakeasy filled with elves and non-humans with an enchanting dark skinned house elf singing. Not only are the non-humans racially diverse but so are the wizards shown when Tina interrupts the world council meeting and you get a glimpse of wizards from all locales.
The world is immense and the special effects match that feeling with each creature from Newt’s suitcase captured to almost perfect CG detail. Each of the creatures were believable and realistic, with incredible designs that were inventive and beautiful. Beyond the effects of the menagerie of beasts, the world within the suitcase is encapsulated brilliantly. The suitcase is bigger on the inside (Newt and others can step inside and visit the habitats of his collection) and this is done so well, I never for a moment doubted the reality of it. All the magic is well done and believable.
That leads me to the actors because without them this wouldn’t have been half as good as it could have been. Dan Fogler is funny and warm, big-hearted as Jacob Kowalski who allows the viewer to see this magical world from a more mundane point of view. As Jabob, who wants to be a baker, is increasingly pulled into Newt’s world, so too is the audience. Eddie Redmayne as Newt is endearing and fiercely protective of his creatures, wanting to keep them safe from the wizards who would hunt them or use them. Katherine Waterston is tough and smart as Tina Goldstein and Alison Sudol is both warm and lovely as Queenie getting just enough screen time to make you fall in love with her character. Even the darker elements were well acted by Colin Farrell and kept me immersed in the film. The chemistry between Eddie Redmayne and the others is incredible. The characters were so engaging, I lost track of the threads of the mystery.
The only flaws, small though they were, was that the mystery elements were a bit predictable. My husband guessed who was responsible for the chaos in New York right away. And although I was kept guessing on some parts of the story, I figured out a great deal of the plot points. There is also a reference to a lost love of Newt’s that might become important in later films but seemed oddly placed where it was in the story. But the fun and action kept me thoroughly engaged throughout.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will love the magic and mystery of the movie and the return to this world. Even if you are not a fan, you can enjoy the movie for the effects and the story, taking delight in the world, the diversity of characters, and the complexity of the issues touched upon in this film. I hoped for the best and was grateful to have been given my wish. Both my husband and I loved this film and are looking forward to seeing any of the sequels.
Rating: 4.5 stars
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” opens in 1926 as Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident… were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Pearlman, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove and Colin Farrell
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Directed by: David Yates