The magical genius that is J.K. Rowling has captivated readers and audiences the world over with her enchanting tale of boy wizard who lived in a closet under the stairs who would grow to legend. The story of Harry Potter is finished, but that hasn’t stopped Rowling from introducing audiences to a new era of magic that occurred long before Harry was born.
Inspired by one of Harry’s textbooks while he was enrolled in Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place in 1926 New York, a time of great upheaval and struggle thanks to an infamous dark wizard before Tom Riddle took on his preferred name and rose to power. The story follows magizoologist Newt Scamander who arrives in the Big Apple to conduct his research on American magical creatures but his plans go awry when his magical briefcase is accidently switched with a briefcase belonging to Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj (the American term for Muggle or non-magic folk if you prefer).
Long story short: several of Newt’s beasts escaped and are roaming free in Manhattan, causing chaos and significantly raising the threat level of exposure of the American wizarding community. It’s up to Newt, Kowalski, ex-Auror Pompetina Goldstein and her sister Queenie to dodge the community of witch-hunters, The Second Salemers, stay a step or two ahead of MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, and bring Newt’s escaped creatures back into his magical briefcase and out of harm’s way.
As a fan of the books and the films, I must say that nothing and I repeat NOTHING will ever come close to the marvelous Harry Potter franchise but I do admit that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a very good start to a new era of magic from J.K. Rowling and director David Yates.
The most magical aspect of this picture has to be the protagonist, portrayed very comfortably by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. Newt is a character that audiences can relate to very easily because going into this film, for people who’ve read the Potter series and watched the films as I have, they enter with a considerable degree of knowledge and familiarity with the subject matter but the audiences explores this new terrain with Newt; he and audiences are exposed to the American wizarding community and its customs while taking a crash course in magical creatures like Nifflers, Thunderbirds, Occamies, Demiguises, Bowtruckles, Erumpants, Obscurials and so much more! I think that this character and how he develops in this film is an amazing testament to the genius of Rowling expanding her already extraordinary universe.
Rowling’s writing and Yates’ direction were undoubtedly exceptional and the acting by the cast was pretty solid. Redmayne was obviously the star, Dan Fogler was funny, Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol were very good, the rest of the cast including Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Samantha Morton, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, and the surprise late addition of Johnny Deppall chip in a significant piece to this story.
James Newton Howard’s score was as magical as ever, Phillipe Rousselot’s cinematography was solid, the editing or Mark Day was precise, Stuart Craig and James Hambridge’s production design was remarkable, the art direction was astounding, the visual effects stole the show, but I may complain about the sound quality; there were times when the sound of dialogue felt a tad muddled and I would have liked to see that aspect of the film cleaned up more prior to release.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a very good start to a new era of magic in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish. I encourage fans of the Harry Potter franchise to venture out and see this film because this movie opens the door to new worlds that transcend that of the Boy Who Lived and perhaps has a hand in shaping it in the films to come. We’ll see!