Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Yates; 2016)

Harry Potter does not return, but the world in which Hogwarts exists does in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film written by J.K. Rowling in her feature film screenwriting debut.  This take on the wizarding world takes place in 1926 New York where the rules of magic may not be different, but the rules of how wizards need to behave are.  When Hogwarts graduate Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne comes to America with a case full of magical creatures, he’s only a cliched sitcom trope away from having some of them get loose in the city, and while he sets about finding them and putting them back in the case where they belong, people start dying and the Wizards Council has to take action.

I admit, I was surprised when I found out that another film was being made in the Harry Potter franchise, though I also admit that I don’t know why as it is a multi-billion dollar windfall for those lucky enough to be a part of the making of it, and was happy to discover that the new film would not only not have the Harry Potter cast of characters in it, but would be a period piece focusing on adults and for the first time would have J.K. Rowling herself write the actual screenplay.  This approach paid off, giving us a neat way to mix both the familiar and the brand new, a world we recognize with familiar rules but seen in a way never seen before.  Gone are children, schools, and prophecies, instead we have adults already well-honed in their magical crafts, wizard governmental agencies, and an entirely new landscape for this series – a large bustling city filled with No-Majes (the American word for Muggles).

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75 years earlier, and it still looks more modern than Hogwarts.

While the characters in this iteration of the series are adults, the story of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is still very much the story written with an eye toward the younger set, but still with some appeal for their parent’s generation, that the Harry Potter books and movies were.  The story does venture into a few dark places and involves more political intrigue than the original series did, but there’s nothing that children wouldn’t understand nor be scarred by, though a few scenes could get pretty scary for those younger than teens.  Unfortunately, many of the plot points of the film are also written for a younger crowd, as much of the film is predictable to the point of being downright trite and overdone, particularly throughout the film’s first act.

The film’s lack of creative plotting, however, is definitely made up for with its charm.  Everything about the movie from its setting, to its dialogue, is characters, and its visuals are completely and utterly endearing.  Our four protagonists – Newt, Tina (Katherine Waterston), Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and Queenie (Alison Sudol) – are all interesting and very likeable, if not very well rounded, and the actors who play them absolutely pitch perfect in their portrayals.  The world of New York is very distinct from the world of Hogwarts, and its prohibition era setting shown in parallel with the magical world which must also keep itself hidden for fear of outright war with the world of the mundane is an absolutely fascinating allegory as well as a delightful method of surprising us with new ways of looking at J.K. Rowling’s magical world.

The very best part of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, though, is the visuals which never cease to amaze, astound, and amuse from beginning to end.  The special effects are nearly flawless, the art direction beautiful, the costumes and make-up spot on and stunning, and all blended seamlessly together to make for one of the most stylish and consistently great visual experiences of the year.

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This isn’t even one of the most impressive settings in the movie, and it’s still gorgeous.

If you are one of the many Harry Potter fanatics out there, seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a no brainer, this is exactly what you have been waiting for since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows wrapped up the series 5 years back.  If, like me, you like the series well enough, but never felt the need for more, you will still absolutely enjoy this entry into the series, and may like me, even find its your favorite due to its more mature but still immensely charming handling of the subject matter.  The only people whom I don’t recommend seeing this are those who gave Harry Potter a try and found nothing to like in it.  While the characters and setting are different this time around, the tone and style still very much belong to J.K. Rowling and her Hogwarts inhabited world.

Rating:  7.4 out of 10

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