Film Review Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Eddie Redmayne in a scene from, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Prepare to be swept off your feet once again into the whimsical world of witches and wizards. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” is a spectacular menagerie of marvelous creatures that could only have been thought up by the imaginative mind of J.K. Rowling. This clever adventure, full of humor, spells, mayhem and mystery is the perfect way to usher in the season of magic.

It’s been 5 years since Potter fans said farewell to their three favorite characters, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and, of course, Harry Potter. But fans who grew up with the series can relive the wonder in an entirely new and fanciful story.

If you haven’t heard of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his magical creatures then, like me, you probably weren’t paying close enough attention during the Harry Potter series. Mr. Scamander, whose story precedes Harry Potter’s by about 50 years, is essentially a footnote in the 7-year saga of the “Boy Who Lived,” appearing mysteriously as slow moving footsteps on the Marauder’s Map in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.” His textbook, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” is also one Harry must purchase after he is invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But it appears J.K. Rowling, a master of planning, had plans for Newt to enter the spotlight all along.

In this prequel set in 1926 Newt Scamander, a young magizoologist travels to New York City while on commission to write a book about magical creatures. It doesn’t take long before Scamander’s curious insects and animals escape the confines of the briefcase.

Most are harmless and hilarious as they wreak havoc upon the unsuspecting muggles.

The niffler, for example, is a small duckbilled rodent irresistibly drawn to shiny objects, that will run off with your wallet if you’re not looking. Others are prone to do much more damage, such as the erumpent, which looks like a giant rhinoceros with a glowing horn that can inject explosive fluid when provoked.

But something far darker and more dangerous than Newt’s creatures lurks in the shadows of New York City. The mysterious being is described by one fearful witness as a black wind, after it lays waste to a building and kills a prominent politician.

Already on edge with the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald on the loose and fearful of their world’s exposure, the Magical Congress of the United States of America detains Newt after suspecting his creatures to be the culprits.

Newt must work with failed auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and the constantly befuddled Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), to save his creatures and prove their innocence.

The addition of “Fantastic Beasts” to the Harry Potter canon is a refreshing variation from the English setting of the originals. It breaks free from the confines of Hogwarts to explore the rest of the magical world while introducing new mythology and storylines. There are also plenty of hints at what’s to come in future films (prepare to see more of Dumbledore), because it just wouldn’t be a Rowling series if we didn’t have to wait half a decade for the rest of the story. Be prepared for the long-haul.

Like the originals the series is decidedly light-hearted in its initial phase, with dark undertones that are sure to become more pronounced as the story evolves. The film’s eeriness is owed primarily to the Second Salemers, a philanthropic group dedicated to the eradication of witches and wizards. Their fanaticism is darker than the actual magic they hunt, and plays a large part in the catastrophe that befalls the city.

It’s also nice to have an entirely adult cast of characters experienced in acting as much as they are in magic. Eddie Redmayne delivers on the eccentric personality of Newt Scamander. As an alumnus of the House of Hufflepuff he’s not the bold or charismatic type of wizard we’re used to.

Redmayne is supported by an committed cast as well that each live up to their roles and carry the story forward with surprising conviction on the part of Katherine Waterston, and humor a la Dan Fogler. Colin Farrel seems an unusual choice for a Rowling movie, but he plays the part of Percival Graves so well, you’re never quite sure whose side he’s on.

It’s not the Potter story you remember, but it’s sure to revive those same warm and fuzzy feelings you first felt when you saw “The Sorcerer’s Stone.” It’s a little unbelievable and some of the creatures might lead you to cock your head and raise an eyebrow, but it’s plenty of fun. With just enough creepiness to keep the more mature viewer engaged it’s a spellbinding introduction to another magical saga.

Katie Alaimo is a designer at The News-Review. She can be reached at kalaimo@nrtoday.com.

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