“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Movie Review


     In what is sure to delight droves of Harry Potter fans around the world, director David Yates brings a polished and familiar look from his experience in directing four previous Potter films to a new world created by author J.K. Rowling with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”  In terms of timeline, “Fantastic Beasts” is technically a prequel to the vast Potter lore we all know and love, but is perfectly capable of standing on its own merit and will likely create a legion of new fans as Rowling and Yates have already announced four sequels in pre production.  At face value, this may seem like a risky gamble, but one viewing of “Fantastic Beasts” will immediately change any thought about the studio not having another standout franchise on their hands.  For the non book readers (I am one of them.), we now stand along side those who have cherished every whimsical detail of Rowling’s Potter books as all of us enter this new chapter in the series based on an original script by Rowling, leaving only the film to capture our collective imaginations.  And it certainly delivers.

     Taking place in 1926, the story centers around writer and adventurer Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his arrival in New York City capping a world wide tour in which he sought to find and collect a host of extraordinary creatures.  Traveling with a magical suitcase capable of housing his ever growing stash, Newt finds himself in a pickle when several of the creatures accidentally escape from the case and begin wreaking havoc on the city’s streets.  One of which is a Niffler, a duck like creature who is drawn to the look of shiny objects and thus brings the action directly to a bank vault where he can have his literal fill of gold and coins.  When it just so happens a muggle named Kowalski (Dan Fogler) is also at the bank with a case which looks strikingly similar to Newt’s, the resulting fiasco sees him mistake Newt’s case for his own as he leaves the scene of the Niffler’s pillage.

     Of course, it doesn't take long for Kowalski, whose intentions were only to apply for a loan at the bank in order to open his own bake shop, to realize the contents of the case are not the baked goods he expected.  Instead, he is immediately attacked by several of the creatures inside which allows Newt to find his location, but the ruckus also gains the attention of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, the body responsible for governing the long standing wizarding contingent in America.  This puts a MACUSA agent named Tina (Katherine Waterston) directly on Newt’s tail with both arriving to the aid of Kowalski and discovering he had been bitten by one of the creatures.  In order to evade others seeking them, including a nefarious MACUSA agent named Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), Newt and Tina take Kowalski to see Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) which sets in motion another layer of the overall plot.  It’s here where the magical world really starts to take shape beyond the occasional use of a wand for teleporting, as well as interference from an anti-witchcraft group called the New Salem Philanthropic Society that serves as a key subplot throughout.

     Veteran production designers Stuart Craig (All 8 previous “Harry Potter” films) and James Hambidge (“The Dark Knight”) collaborate to create one of the most critical and standout aspects of the film.  With Rowling clearly establishing a completely new world occupied with an assortment of original characters, it was absolutely essential the overall look of the film, from the sets to the creature designs, demonstrated the ability to feel familiar, yet still allowing the budding franchise to take shape on its own merit.  Yates and his collaborators successfully introduce a literal treasure-trove of creatures and beasts, all of which are well thought out and wholly original in both their presentation and function within the story.  The CGI bringing them to vivid life is some of the best work I’ve seen this year, especially considering the amount of integration necessary with the various actors.  The resulting images provide moments of sheer awe and excitement throughout, culminating in numerous action set pieces made all the more impactful by James Newton Howard’s fabulous score.

     Eddie Redmayne proves to be the right choice as Newt, displaying a slightly awkward and unsure personality that works well for the character’s idiosyncrasies and the traits Rowling wanted translated to the screen.  Standout performances by Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, and Seraphina Picquery round out the outstanding ensemble, assuring “Fantastic Beasts” has the potential to not only be as lucrative a franchise as its predecessor, but also a strong likelihood of becoming a classic.  The audience I viewed the film with cheered both as the opening title was presented in a similar fashion to “Harry Potter”, and also at its conclusion which allowed for a proper goodbye to each character until we see them again on what will most certainly be another fantastic adventure.  Of course, now I’m walking around giggling for absolutely no reason.  Must be something in the water.  GRADE: A