Return to the Wizarding World
When I first heard that a Harry Potter prequel was in the works revolving around a Hogwarts textbook, I was disappointed. Out of all the different avenues for Harry Potter related spinoffs, why on earth would they choose a random textbook from the series? I did not have that much anticipation for this movie as a result with my only anticipation being the cast and the fact J.K. Rowling penned the script. However, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a surprisingly fun Harry Potter spinoff that succeeds in bringing fans back into the Wizarding World and setting the stage for new stories to come.
When Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City with a case full of magical creatures to further study and understand them, he runs into No-Mag( American term for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who accidentally releases some of the creatures. With the help from Jacob, ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), and her bubbly sister Queenie (Fine Frenzy), Newt must gather back his lost creatures while simultaneously battling dark forces being investigated by Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and Credence (Ezra Miller).
First off, Eddie Redmayne is a standout as Newt that really carries the movie through. His fascination with the magical creatures and his insistence on understanding them is touching and adorable to watch. There is a sense of childlike wonder when he talks about the creatures, explaining each one’s traits and unique properties. He is a very shy and introverted person making him endearing to watch on screen.
The supporting cast also does a great job in helping out Newt. Dan Fogler as the No-Mag serves as mostly comic relief in the movie and is the audience’s gateway into this magical world. Fogler portrays his astonishment to seeing all of these magical properties the same way any of us would when exposed to this new world. Waterson does well in showcasing a character trying to do the right thing while also trying to help Newt rescues his creatures.She is a very by the rules person which provides a good contrast with Redmayne’s free spirited nature.
Colin Farrell’s and Ezra Miller’s characters provide a tonal dissonance with the film. While Newt and his friends are on their light spirited journey to recover the lost creatures, Farrell and Miller are dealing with much more darker magic. Their characters are mysterious and have shady motivations that’ll keep you invested especially as their arc mimics the more darker Potter films.
This movie really excels in telling its own story set apart from the Harry Potter movies. Even though this movie does take place approximately forty years before the events of the first film, it is its own standalone adventure. The story does not depend on your knowledge of the original series making it open to newcomers of the series. One or two small references and terminology may be confusing, but overall the movie succeeds in bringing in a new audience and expanding the Wizarding World.
This wizarding community in America definitely has a different feel to it than the one we saw in London. They operate with a different sophistication and insistence on upholding the law that provides an interesting dynamic with our main characters.
Even though it is its own adventure, comparisons with the original series are inevitable. This cast does not have the same cohesion as Harry, Ron, and Hermione did. We do not get a sense that each of these characters necessarily need each other, but rather just stick around for the convenience of the plot. This is both a good and bad thing as this allows for separation from the original series while also not really giving the audience a sense of unity and friendship that was so key with our previous trio of characters.
The creatures themselves are all computer generated but that is not always a bad thing. Some of the beasts are really cute and hilarious and allows the audience to have the same fascination that Newt does. Others have a domineering presence that makes you invested in how Newt can handle all these creatures together. There is one scene in particular that showcases all the different creatures Newt has collected and serves as a great focal point to expand the Wizarding World as we knew it to be. One or two creatures look a little too overdone but for the most part, the special effects are top notch.
One thing I was surprised with for this movie was the amount of nostalgia it gave me. From the opening titles with the original theme playing, to the spells galore in the finale, I was overcome with my eight year old self being super excited and amazed with all the wonders this world had to offer. It was nice to see that even though it is separate from Harry Potter, it can still give me the childhood amazement and emotions that allowed me to fall in love with the franchise.
Nostalgia and die-hard Potter fan aside, the movie is trying to set up a new franchise of films to follow it (four more as of now), so there are some slow expositional scenes that attempt to fill audiences in on details they will need to know later down the road. It can sometimes take away from the experience especially when in one moment you’re dealing with Newt’s humorous mating calls to find one of his creatures, to the next where it is dark and serious trying feed the audience information. While the information and dissonance is interesting, the transitions happen at awkward times that don’t really flow with the scene preceding it.
Even though the exposition is dreary, it is interesting to see where this next generation of movies are going. The ending of this movie definitely sets the stage for more stories to be told. While this film could have done well as a stand alone adventure, I am overall glad that we get to see more of the Wizarding World, but this time without the knowledge of reading the book first.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an extremely fun and entertaining film for both existing Potter fans and newcomers. It is able to tell its own story while also giving some nostalgia to fans that enjoyed the original series. Eddie Redmayne gives a great performance as the adorkable Newt Scamander with the supporting cast adding levity to the film. While there are some tonal and pacing issues throughout the film, it is able to pave the path for an expansion of the world fans have come to love.