Genre: Action and Adventure
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell
Release Date: November 18th, 2016
Fantastic Beasts and where to Find Them is both a prequel to the Harry Potter films and a standalone movie that’s set to spawn its own franchise. This film’s title refers to a textbook that Potter and his fellow students studied at Hogwarts. This new feature tells the story of textbook author Newt Scamander, as he travels the streets of 1920s New York with a crew of fantastic beasts in his suitcase.
Early on, Newt (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York from England. Surrounded by fellow immigrants, he wanders the streets, seeing the city come to vibrant life with new opportunities everywhere. In the midst of the bustling and welcoming city, an angry orphanage manager named Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) shouts “Witches are among us” to a group of avid listeners, spreading fears about the ever-changing population.
Mary Lou’s prejudices are too wrong-headed to be true but there are dark forces in the city causing destruction throughout the community. When a baker Kowalski (Dan Fogler) accidentally frees some of Newt’s creatures, Newt comes under fire from the wizarding community. His journey brings him into contact with the magic- investigating wizard Graves (Colin Farrell), his naïve associate Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her charming sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).
Written by J.K. Rowling, the feature decently sets up a new story-line but the story lacks the excitement and imagination of the Harry Potter series. What was interesting about the Harry Potter series (especially at the beginning) is that it dealt with adult concepts through the eyes of children. These stories felt more innocent because the main characters were young students at a school of wizardry. As the students matured, the stories became darker in tone.
Here, the story starts as with dark elements throughout that aren’t curtailed by the characters’ idealism.
In fact, the inquisitive Newt never really proves to be a worthy lead character here. His intellectualism is never in doubt but even when he’s in trouble (getting arrested, getting sentenced to the death penalty, nearly getting killed), his character is aloof. In the Potter universe, there seemed to be real consequences for the characters but Redmayne’s Newt never seems truly worried even when his creatures are causing mischief and a mysterious villain starts attacking humans in the streets.
It also doesn’t help that some of Newt’s creatures aren’t fully integrated into the story. There are some moments where the creatures really become part of the plot (such as during a highly-entertaining bank sequence) but then there are other scenes where the creatures feel like an extraneous element in the plot. Such is the case in the long sequence when Newt spends his time travelling in his suitcase.
There are a few elements that do work well here and that really celebrate the uniqueness of Rowling’s world. The relationship between the human Kowalski and the delightful Queenie is a really hopeful and unique one that works incredibly well. The romance between the duo serves as one of the film’s most optimistic and idealistic highlights and one hopes that future films will delve into this relationship more deeply.
Alas, though, there isn’t enough time for such matters in a feature more focused on darker more intense moments. For Harry Potter fans, the return to this magical world could serve as a welcome relief but unfortunately, this new entry feels forced and ultimately unnecessary. There are a few solid elements here but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them lacks the magic and hopefulness that the original series was well-known for.
Review by: John Hanlon