Five years after we left a victorious Harry Potter and friends we return to his world, but to a time predating Harry and his allies. In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the year is 1926. We meet the bumbling Newt Scamander, played by the also bumbling, but Academy Award-winning, Eddie Redmaye. He is on his way to New York, ostensibly to buy some sort of rare magical creature. His true purpose is later revealed.
Prior to his appearance, we discover that the Big Apple is under attack. None magical beings think it’s a strange serious of gas leaks which have exploded various buildings. But the wizards of New York know better. And we see the slicked-hair Graves (Colin Farrell) investigating one just site.
In typical J.K. Rowling style, you can tell he’s up to no good in his overly polished manner and expensive suit. He’s also high up the chain of command in NYC’s wizarding council. All sure signs that he is either the baddie or working for the top baddie. It is prudent to point out this is pre-Voldemort, and so the wizarding world’s supreme antagonist is Grindelwald, (played by a surprise appearance, which will not be spoiled here).
It is into this heightened fearful New York that Newt arrives with an innocuous brown briefcase. Of course, he, much like Harry Potter, is incapable of not attracting trouble. His first brush is on a street corner with a group of anti-witch people, ominously called the “New Salemers.” Instead of getting into trouble with these “No-Mag’s” it is one of Newt’s creatures that causes the trouble. (It is prudent to point out that “muggles” in this film are termed the less endearing moniker “No-Mag” aka “No Magics”).
The little beastie looks something like an echidna without spines, and it has a penchant for stealing shiny things—particularly money and jewels. And since the gathering of New Salemers is outside a bank you can guess what happens.
In quick succession, we meet Tina (Katherine Waterston) a wanna-be investigator for the NYC wizarding circle and “No-Mag” Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a canner with a dream to open a bakery. Mayhem ensues in predictable Rowling style, but is no less enjoyable.
Along the way we get a wider range of CGI magical creatures that look less than convincing on screen, but are still delightful. We also discover that Newt has always been bumbling, which is probably why he works with animals instead of people. (His people skills leave much to be desired).
“Fantastic Beasts” is a playful ride and fun return to Rowling’s wizarding world, but it doesn’t seem that the Harry Potter universe aged with its readers. For those of us who grew up with the books and movies, but moved beyond, the story is a bit ho-hum, and the effects—particularly the creatures seem stuck in 2011.
We’ve seen how far computer animation has come since then. The recent Marvel flick “Doctor Strange” is a testament that you can still create mind-blowing graphics. Yet somehow, they fall flat here in “Fantastic Beasts.”
The best part of the entire movie is Redmayne and Fogler’s performances. Both are adorably hilarious, while Waterston’s Tina is entirely relatable to any woman who seeks to rise within her career field. It is in characters where Rowling shines.
Interestingly, and perhaps known to true Potter fans, this film was writing by J.K. Rowling but was not based on a book, unlike the “Harry Potter” series. The book that Newt writes does appear in Harry’s world but in no great detail.
With as much detail as there is in her books, there will no doubt be plenty of fodder to return to that world over and over again. The question is, do we still want it? (The answer, will undoubtedly be, yes).
– Mesa resident Kaely Monahan is producer of Popcorn Fan Film Reviews.