Read our review for ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ as the wizarding world of Harry Potter jumps back to New York City in 1926…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
Considering the obscene amount of money the ‘Harry Potter’ films made, it’s no wonder that Warner Bros. decided to dive back into the wizarding world with a new set of movies, starting with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, which lands in theaters on Friday.
Author J.K Rowling penned the script for the film — a first for the prolific writer — as she journeys back in time to follow a character only briefly mentioned in the ‘Harry Potter’ books and films. Unlike George R.R. Martin, who created a vast universe complete with a detailed history for his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ novels, Rowling wasn’t as beholden to source material when working on ‘Fantastic Beasts’.
The original novel of the same name is supposed to be a textbook written by magizooligist Newt Scamander and the crux of the work is simply a description of all the magical creatures that occupy the same space as magicians and muggles and how to care for them. Somehow, Rowling took that concept and molded it into a fun two hour romp that sees Scamander come to the United States with his menagerie of magical creatures while also toying with a story that was touched on during the ‘Harry Potter’ novels but now comes to life on the big screen.
The result is an enjoyable movie going experience for anybody who loved the ‘Harry Potter’ films or books and also a stand alone feature if you’ve never seen a single frame from the past movies from the J.K. Rowling universe.
Oh and just one more note — ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is just the first of five planned films in the series so buckle up if you’re a ‘Harry Potter’ fan because you’ll be traveling into this wizarding world for several years to come.
Set in New York City circa 1926, the story begins with the arrival of an expelled Hogwart’s alum named Newt Scamander, who traveled to the United States along with a case full of magical creatures that he brought with him from England. Scamander had been tasked with writing a book about all the magical creatures that inhabited the world and so he was traveling from country to country, discovering all manner of beasts and documenting their skills and how to care for them.
Unfortunately upon arriving in New York, Scamander accidentally exchanges his case with one belonging to a No-Maj (the American version of Muggle, which means a human) and some of his fantastic beasts are unleashed out into New York. This couldn’t come at a worse time for the wizarding community in the United States because there’s currently an uprising happening in New York with humans lashing out against anyone in the magical community.
This is all happening on top of a series of attacks in Europe by an infamous dark wizard named Gellert Grindlewald, who wanted to break down the walls of secrecy separating in the wizarding world from humanity. In Grindlewald’s mind, wizards and witches should be ruling the world — not hiding from humans.
Scamander’s arrival and the subsequent escape of his creatures makes for a whole new set of problems for the wizards and witches in New York.
Because Newt Scamander was only mentioned but never really made much of an appearance in the ‘Harry Potter’ books, the person who played him in the film would really be able to create the character for the first time. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne was chosen for the role and now it would be nearly impossible to imagine anybody else playing the magizooligist, who is equal parts awkward and adorable in the role.
Dan Fogler is also has a standout performance as Jacob Kowalski, the No-Maj who encounters Scamander early in the movie before accidentally exchanging cases with him. Fogler is great comedic relief in the film, but also finds a way to tug at your heart strings — especially during the final few minutes of the movie.
Ezra Miller should also receive praise for his portrayal of Credence Barebone, a disturbed young boy who wants nothing more than to become a wizard.
The entire cast really does fit right into the entire ‘Harry Potter’ universe, especially considering this is an entirely new world created specifically for the movie.
Directing and Writing
To ensure that ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ was handled the right way, director David Yates was brought on board to lead up the project. Yates was very familiar with the ‘Harry Potter’ films after he directed the final four movies in the series.
Yates not only understands the world of ‘Harry Potter’ but he’s able to give ‘Fantastic Beasts’ a similar look so movie goers will seamlessly slip back into this world without skipping a beat.
Rowling also deserves credit for the work on the script, which was her first one after writing the ‘Harry Potter’ books and consulting on the movies but never actually penning one of the films herself. No one understands this world better than Rowling so it’s befitting that she was the person in charge of bringing ‘Fantastic Beasts’ to life and her words were then transformed into pictures by Yates on screen.
It’s a dynamic duo that will hopefully team up for all of the sequels because the first one truly captured the heart and spirit of the ‘Harry Potter’ universe.
What’s Wrong with the Movie?
If there’s one complaint to be made, it’s the muddled message regarding the real threat overhanging our characters in this film. Scamander’s creatures escaping is the catalyst that launches us into the movie, but really that’s only secondary to the current atmosphere in America due to the simmering war between humans and wizards.
When you add in a third element — the hunt for a powerful magic that’s hiding inside one of the characters — the overall plot gets a little hectic. In other words, Rowling should have stuck with one theme when it came to the villainy in this movie instead of jumping around to several different plot points.
It’s a minor quibble really, however, as the ending really seems to bring it all back together again while also setting up the future sequels.
If you loved ‘Harry Potter’, you’re going to enjoy this film. My girlfriend is the self-professed biggest ‘Harry Potter’ fan in the entire world and she was gleaming from start to finish during this film and that’s about the best review you could ever receive if you’re going to see ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ gets 4 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale.