Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

 J.K. Rowling wrote a screenplay based on just one paragraph.  Seriously.  The screenplay was inspired by paragraph from a Harry Potter spin-off book entitled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  

The book is mentioned and read in the Harry Potter series, but the physical copy was used as a donation to a charity called Comic Relief. The movie, of the same name, is inspired in part by the About the Author paragraph, which summarizes the life of the fictional author, Newt Scamander.  It is also based on stories posted on Pottermore.com, a website where J.K. Rowling publishes short Harry Potter stories and gives summaries of things like the magical community in America.  However, the movie also incorporates fresh ideas that are entirely new to the Harry Potter mythos.

The movie opens on Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, who is probably familiar to Harry Potter fans as one of Dumbledore’s oldest enemies.  The movie is set in 1920s New York, where, following a series of headlines featuring news from the Wizarding World, a young British wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) enters the U.S. trying to find more magical creatures. He takes care of them in his suitcase, which has a magically enlarged inside to hold all the creatures and their different environments in separate rooms.

While appearing whimsical at first the film takes a relatively dark turn, involving witch hunters convinced that something evil is happening in the city and that magical people are the cause.  Meanwhile, Newt encounters a factory worker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler),  who wants to open a bakery and a disgraced magical congress Auror (which is a job familiar to Harry Potter readers: Basically a member of the wizard police force), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), and her sister, Queenie Goldstein,  (Alison Sudol) The two are roommates in an apartment. The villains are mysterious and you don’t really know who has what role in the story until the climax, a disaster that decimates New York City.

While having a satisfying ending, the story does have some very intense and dramatic scenes as well as a few emotionally tortured characters for whom the end seems incomplete.  Throughout the movie fantastic beasts get lost, found and caught in almost every kind of predicament.  Some of these beasts include creatures like the niffler who devours everything shiny and gets out while Newt is near a bank early in the movie.  The niffler is also in the Harry Potter series as part of Hagrid’s collection and other beasts are more like the thunderbird, a majestic four-winged bird with 4 legs who plays a relatively important role near the end but never appears in the books.

Some of the creatures aren’t really important to the storyline but do make for cool scene in the movies, such as the demiguise, which looks almost like a small yeti and is involved in a scene where Newt tracks a huge snake-like occamy to a Macy’s where he catches it with his suitcase.  The beasts add a lot to the movie in scenes where Newt attempts to get them inside his suitcase so that he can keep them safe, help their relationship with humans, have them as friends and take care of them.

The soundtrack of the movie sounds extremely similar to the original score for the HP movies by John Williams, but is instead by James Newton Howard.

I think that the movie definitely appeals more to fans of the original series than newcomers to the Harry Potter world.  Eddie Redmayne gives a performance as a likable protagonist that is accompanied by other characters that each have their own vibrant personality and with magical creatures on board.  

The beasts definitely add a lot to the film and each have their own personality as well.  While the cast seems to steal the show, it also relies a lot on special effects that are impressive and in fact visually stunning, like the beasts and the few scenes inside of Newt’s suitcase.

This movie includes more humor than the Harry Potter movies, but it’s subtle, and the movies focuses more on mature themes like loss and bigotry. Fantastic Beasts is definitely worth watching from its insane special effects to its familiar score.  It is an enjoyable film that renews an old idea with new characters, new setting and new themes that relate to the Harry Potter series but are their own group of heroes full of new energy.

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