Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
Harry Potter fanatics have longed for something new ever since the last film in the franchise drew to a close. So there is no concern that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will wizard its way into the top of the box office and the hearts of fans. Still, dropping a few names and mentioning Hogwarts in no way makes it a solid addition to the Potter Kingdom. This one needed to succeed on its own merit. It needed to be, well, fantastic.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a twitchy young fellow who arrives in NY from London with a suitcase full of magical creatures. It is bad timing on his part what with all the commotion going on. The local witches and wizards are trying to keep a low profile. The last thing they need are a bunch of beasts running amuck stirring up the muggles (non-wizards) or No-Maj as they are known in the states. Newt instantly lands in hot water with President Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and her main enforcer Percival Graves (Colin Farrell). Luckily he finds an ally in Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) who helps him try and set things right.
1920’s NY is always a great backdrop for any story. This one is no different. The architecture, clothes and transportation set this one apart from the normal wizardly world. The nostalgia and pace of that time period lend to the tone of the characters as well. The drawback to that is some of the decision making from the costume department on how to dress the secret community of witches. I am sure the thought was to make them colorful and flamboyant,. But instead they favor cartoonish, ridiculous gangsters.
Redmayne is an incredible actor and has an Oscar statue to prove it. There are few with his dramatic chops. Here I found him annoying and distracting. It is highly possible that Newt is supposed to be distracting and annoying. As mentioned he is certainly quirky. But a performance should ground you to the character and not remove you from it. Too often Redmayne overshadowed Newt and manipulated him a tad much. I am glad Eddie was cast but I wanted to see less of him and more of Scamander.
The best part of the film is the character of Jacob Kowalski played expertly by Dan Fogler. Kowalski is a muggle who unexpectedly gets tangled up in the wizard world through a series of events. Fogler delivers a funny, endearing, and heartwarming performance. Jacob could have come across as simple comic relief in the realm of Lou Costello. But instead he nearly outshines the other players. You will just love him and perk up every time he enters a scene. A hilarious side plot is his goo-goo eyed infatuation with a bubbly witch named Queenie (Alison Sudol). The two of them have such fun on screen and add much needed humor to the story line.
You can’t have a movie about Fantastic Beasts without a bunch of Fantastic Beasts. This one has several beasts of all shapes and sizes. They are pretty cool. But Pretty Cool Beasts and Where to Find Them is not as sell-able a title. It seems they are there only to explain why Newt is there. The meat of the story is certainly about other things rather than the beasts. But they look fine and fill up an IMAX screen. So there is that. The beasts are upstaged by a group of witch hunters who could have their own creepy movie. Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) leads a clan of adopted young misfits hell bent on exposing the evil forces around them. They play a pivotal role in what happens throughout and are intriguing to watch. Often more so than the magical folks.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence. There are some scary dark moments but they don’t last long. Safe for those 12 and up but if your younger kids are Harry Potter fans then good luck keeping them out of this one. And to be honest they will be fine. For all the things that this film does wrong it does more right and therefore is a must see for the genre fans. Let’s be honest, we are never going to get another Potter film so just having anything that mentions Dumbledore is a win. I give it 3.5 out of 5 carry on bags. Wanted more of some things and less of others; but overall happy to get anything.