Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol and others
Rating: * * * ½
The title of this film, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, comes from one of the textbooks Harry Potter studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Potter has graduated and moved on, but obviously there is more fame, fandom and fortune yet to be squeezed of J K Rowling’s world of magic, so here’s a spin-off franchise, starring the man of the season, Eddie Redmayne. In the film, directed by David Yates (who also helmed four of the Harry Potter films) Redmayne plays a ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander, who is so passionate about protecting magical beasts that he ended up writing that book. Instead of Harry’s England this film is set in 1920s New York, when there are problems between the magic folk and No-Majs (or American Muggles).
Scamander arrives at Ellis Island with a ‘magic’ bottomless suitcase full of illegal creatures (with Rowling-esque names like nifflers, bowtruckles, erumpent), where all beasts have been outlawed by the local Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). He absentmindedly exchanges suitcases with a Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj baker, who inadvertently unleashes some of the terrifying CGI creatures into the city. Newt has to find and recapture the escaped beasts. He is also taken into custody by Tina (Katherine Waterston), a security officer with MACUSA, who ends up helping Newt in the hunt for the suitcase. There is the usual mayhem with the creatures running riot, but Rowling’s script also makes a point about intolerance that could well apply to the world today. The wizards elect a female president, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo), while a rising sect of magic-fearing protesters are led by the nasty witch-hater Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). Her adopted son, Credence (Ezra Miller) allies with a power-hungry Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).
Most fantasy books (and films) are basically about good versus evil and heroes saving the world—even reluctant or unlikely ones like Harry or Newt, who has on his side Jacob, Tina and her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).
The film has marvellous special affects—the creatures are imaginatively designed, and the characters placed in a nicely-done period setting. The films will obviously appeal to those who liked the Potter sagas, and they get a chance to enter a whole new world of Rowling-created mythology. It’s all very impressive, but whether it’s fun to watch is hard to say, if one is a No-Maj.