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Three Views: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

December 14, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-posterExpanding upon the world she created in the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first film for which author J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay, and it serves as a welcome return to the wizarding world.

Directed by David Yates, who also helmed the last four films in the Harry Potter franchise, this is a handsomely produced prequel that offers a lot for fans to enjoy, setting the action several decades before the happenings at Hogwarts.

The film takes place in the 1920s, and opens with newspaper headlines that tell us of the war that is brewing between those with magical powers and the No-Majs (American for Muggle), ignited by fanatical wizard Gellert Grindewald.  We are then introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a nerdy wizard who is visiting New York from Hogwarts with his suitcase of magical creatures in tow, to continue research for his textbook.

But when his suitcase is accidentally switched with one belonging to muggle baker Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the creatures get loose and Newt ends up having to round them back up, with help from rogue wizard detective Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her enchanted sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).  Newt is also under investigation from Graves (Colin Farrell), a security director from the Magical Congress of the USA, who is investigating him for his infractions of bringing foreign creatures into America and also believes he might have something to do with a dark force clouding the city.

The film’s most interesting subplot involves Credance Barebone (Ezra Miller), a shy teenager whose adoptive mother Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) is lobbying for a “Second Salem” to rid New York of witches and wizards.  Ezra Miller delivers an affecting performance that helps garner sympathy for his conflicted character, bringing the right amount of buried emotion and brooding to his role.  It’s through this that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them reveals its darkest and moodiest moments, and also suggests the film’s deeper political leanings, using magical abilities as an allegory for being gay or any other sort of difference that wasn’t widely accepted at the time.

The production design is solid, bringing to life New York in the 1920s with the right mix of majesty and grit, with many scenes atmospherically unfolding on the streets at night.  The film’s darker tone is offset by moments of buoyancy, courtesy of Newt’s many whimsical creatures.  There is ample comic relief provided by the Niffler, an adorable little platypus-like creature who has a penchant for getting loose and stealing shiny things, and having a field day on Fifth Avenue in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Appealing to those of us who grew up with the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them boasts a cast of adult characters to target an older audience.  Eddie Redmayne is utterly charming in the leading role, with his slightly hunched shoulders and lack of eye contact adding to the character’s nerdy appeal.  Katherine Waterston provides a solid counterpart, with Alison Sudol stealing scenes and Dan Fogler doing likeable work that recalls John Candy.  Colin Farrell does a good job of keeping his character’s intentions mysterious through his quietly sinister performance.

There are deeper themes hinted at that will likely come to the forefront in further entries, like the fact that in America at the time it is illegal for wizards and muggles to marry.  Serving as a polished piece of world building that makes the already planned multitude of sequels feel welcome, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a richly rewarding fantasy film that provides a throughly entertaining return to the wizarding world, and a compelling expansion of the Harry Potter mythology.

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Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review By Erin Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

A spinoff to the Harry Potter series, written by J.K. Rowling herself, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a charming and entertaining film focusing on the story of New Scamander (perfectly played by Eddie Redmayne) and the trouble his suitcase full of magical creatures causes when they escape in 1920’s New York.

When the film opens, Newt is travelling from the UK to America for unknown reasons.  Soon after he arrives though, a Niffler and other fantastic creatures escape his case, and begin to wreck havoc on a city already divided and prejudiced against the wizarding community.  This puts Newt in trouble with MACUSA agent Tina (Katherine Waterston), who arrests him for revealing wizarding to No-Majs (Muggles) and letting the creatures loose.  There he meets the strange Graves (Colin Ferrell) who would love to shut Newt (and even Tina) up forever.  Meanwhile, other trouble is brewing as a group of religious zealots are steadily raising the tensions between the No-Majs and wizards, just as a seemingly unstoppable dark force begins attacking the city.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Newt as he reluctantly works with Tina and a No-Maj named Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to try to re-capture all of his escaped creatures as suspicions are raised that they have something to do with the dark force.  The film is very well-done and never drags.  The characters are well-developed as we have come to expect from Rowling, and the cast all bring them wonderfully to life.  On the technical side of things, the score by James Newton Howard is very well fitting and elevates the film another notch, and the creature animation and additional special effects are seamless.

This is one that is bound to be in theatres for another good while (at least through the Christmas season), and it is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

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Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and Tina (Katherine Waterston) in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review By Tony Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in a way a prequel to the Harry Potter series, set several generations back in 1926 New York. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a magical beast expert who comes from England to continue his work of species preservation. The critters live in a menagerie inside his suitcase, which is accidentally switched with another belonging to a No-Maj (American for Muggle) baker named Kowalski (Dan Fogler). The mixup is not cleared up before several beasts get away and all kinds of adventures involving American wizards good (Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol) and bad (Colin Farrell) and a lot of damage to the city, all to be repaired and obliviated in the end.

An original screenplay written by but not based on a previous novel by J.K. Rowling, FBaWtFT maintains much of the fun of the other films with a whole new setting and cast of characters. For true fans there was a book describing all the beasts briefly introduced here with various powers that will no doubt be used in the sequels to follow. Relationships between some of the characters are nicely established, notably between the wizards and Kowalski, so that the final frame, reminiscent of City Lights and Planes, Trains and Automobiles is particularly touching.

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Consensus: With a solid ensemble cast led by Eddie Redmayne, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an entertaining and compellingly dark fantasy adventure, that provides an excellent expansion of the Harry Potter mythology. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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