Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in the same fictional world as the Harry Potter books and movies, but this definitely is not Harry Potter. On the whole, this is a very good thing.
Not to diss Harry Potter. I’m a fan—have been since I discovered the books in an airport bookstore in 2000, and will likely remain so for as long as I have a functioning memory. But it was marvelously refreshing to visit a brand new region and era in the same familiar, well-loved fantasy world.
Departing from the short “reference book” published for charity in 2001, the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them focuses on the adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) in 1920’s New York. The good old US of A is not a terribly safe, friendly place in which to be a wizard, at this time—particularly one as eccentric and prone to rule-bending (if he’s noticed the rules are there at all) as Newt. Several different flavors of chaos ensue as he meets aspiring baker and No-Maj (non-magic-user) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), and Tina’s Legilimens (able to read thoughts) sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).
Meanwhile, the city of New York is under attack, courtesy of a powerful Obscurus (a dark, destructive force unwittingly unleashed by young witches/wizards required to suppress their powers). Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), powerful head of the Aurors at MACUSA (American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic), is willing to resort to some unsavory tactics to find the host of the Obscurus before more serious harm is done.
I won’t give away the whole plot. For one thing, it’s posted plenty of places online. For another thing, there were a couple of rather nice twists that I didn’t see coming, and I’d hate to spoil that for someone who hasn’t yet seen the film.
The storytelling in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is great. Rowling definitely has not lost her touch for telling an engaging yarn. The entire movie held my interest, with moments of action and moments of horror and moments of magical wonder balancing nicely throughout. Enough storylines were resolved to create a satisfying ending, yet enough remained open to leave plenty of room for sequels.
The actors—from the stars to the speaking extras—do a fine job fleshing out their characters and making them sympathetic and believable. I thought Redmayne and Farrell, in particular, did an outstanding job.
The movie wasn’t perfect. In a movie full of fantasy and quirks and whimsy (which all worked seamlessly with more realistic elements), Johnny Depp‘s cameo right at the end was just plain weird and seemed jarringly out of place. Setup for future films, yeah, I know, but the powers-that-be in making the film really could have handled it better. Also, for as important a role as the Obscurus played in the film, the story of the youth who unleashes it really could have used more development and screen time.
However, on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I look forward to watching it again (and again and again) and look forward to future installments.
Release Date: November 18, 2016 (USA & UK)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (social drinking)
Language: 1 (rare mild 1920’s-style cursing)
Sexuality: 1 (one impassioned kiss near the end)
Violence: 3 (lots of wizarding combat, creature-related peril, implied abuse, barely-off-screen death)