Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Review #1,374






THE SCOOP
Director:  David Yates
Cast:   Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Alison Sudol
Plot:  The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York's secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.

Genre:  Adventure / Fantasy
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Costume Design.  Nom. for 1 Oscars - Best Production Design
Runtime:  133min
Rating:  PG  for some fantasy action violence.
Distributor:  Warner Bros

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“Aww, I wanna be a wizard.”

It has been five years since the last ‘Harry Potter' movie, but while the frenzy has died down somewhat, and it is impossible for Warner Bros to predict how screen extensions to the Potterverse would fare in a world more fixated with the Marvel and DC movies, the decision to greenlight a new franchise of five films, starting with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is as I would like to see it, an inspired one, at least from the quality of the first instalment. 

David Yates returns to direct, no doubt his familiarity with the fantastic world of wizards and wands is paying dividends.  Together with J.K. Rowling, who delivers her first screenplay (which is excellent by the way), they bring us back to the magic of old, yet this is a brand new story with a touch of darkness and a lighter touch of warmth. 

Fantastic Beasts stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt, a young Englishman who travels to New York in search of lost beasts to tame and care for.  He meets two key figures whom I'm sure will continue to play major roles in the subsequent movies—Tina (Katherine Waterson, who first caught my eye in P.T. Anderson's Inherent Vice (2014)) and Kowalski (Dan Fogler in a bumbling, charming performance). 

They meet other characters, both inherently good and ambivalently evil, as they serve up a story that is not only well-told, but one that is satisfying enough to pave way for what will surely be another big screen popular culture phenomenon. 

As usual, this is a tale of light and darkness, magic and sorcery.  Newt, in the middle of the maelstrom that is to unfold which threatens to reveal the wizards and witches in our midst, is seen to be malignant by the authorities, while he tries to prove his innocence and worth—with the aid of his assortment of creatures hidden in the cavernous world of his briefcase. 

The visual effects are top-notch, some of the finest I’ve seen this year, though one could tell that the filmmakers have tried to restraint themselves, not just in service to the narrative, but also to pique our curiosity.  I’m sure in time to come these fantastic beasts, happily in Newt’s expanding collection, will feature more prominently and become wholly integral to the development of the franchise. 

Verdict:  The magic of old with a largely involving newfound story combine in what is a decent beginning to what will surely be another big screen popular culture phenomenon.  

GRADE: B+






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