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article imageReview: ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ keeps the magic alive Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 18, 2016 in Entertainment
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is the first laudable film in a series of prequels returning to the world of Harry Potter long before the boy and his friends were even born.
First capturing the audience’s attention with the written word, the Harry Potter series then gained fans around the world with the film adaptations. Over 10 years, J.K. Rowling’s beloved characters grew up on the big screen and the young actors that played them were immortalized as they grew into young adults before millions of eyes. But everything must come to an end, and eventually the final battle was waged and admirers said goodbye to Hogwarts’ brave students. However, many were later relieved to learn this was not just the end of the journey but the beginning of a new one, an earlier one. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel to the renowned tale, taking place decades before the saviour’s birth.
Seventy years before Harry Potter would even enter the academy, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a former student of Hogwarts, travels to America for the first time with a suitcase of living wonders. The Magical Congress of the U.S.A. has banned magical creatures and the practice of magic in public as they try to conceal their existence from the “No-Maj” (a.k.a. Muggles) — rules Newt fails to follow from the moment he gets off the ship in New York. The accidental emancipation of Newt’s creatures leads to his arrest by former Auror (a.k.a. dark wizard catcher) Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and the inadvertent involvement of aspiring baker and No-Maj, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). While they team up with Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), to recapture the exceptional beasts, a dangerous and thought-to-be extinct monster terrorizes the city. Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), is on its trail, but the wake of its destruction is becoming increasingly difficult to cover up.
Though the sense of whimsy first conveyed 15 years ago remains, the locale and politics are significantly different. Although English wizards had somewhat of an antagonistic relationship with non-magical humans, they still attempted to co-exist with them and were accepted by many. Conversely Americans try to conceal their existence from the No-Maj, prohibiting any interaction between them and erasing the memories of anyone who witnesses a magical act. There are whispers of witchcraft in the streets and religious zealots are demanding action, but there’s no effort on either side for acknowledgement or understanding. It certainly makes tracking Newt’s unusual, not-always covert creatures interesting.
Though the American characters tend to use their magic sparingly or behind closed doors, Newt is used to using his abilities indiscriminately and does so repeatedly throughout the narrative. However, the most fascinating is his suitcase which gives “bigger on the inside” new meaning. Wizards appear to operate in stunning parallel worlds most of the time with great buildings consisting of endless levels, countless house elves, secret entrances and unheard of libations. Newt’s magical creatures are kept in a wondrous sanctuary, where he cares for them and from which he tries to keep the more curious from escaping, including Niffler, a klepto, duck-billed beast attracted to shiny things. And Newt is nearly inseparable from a small twig-like creature that has separation anxiety. All of his creatures have some real-life basis, from guinea pigs to platypuses to rhinoceroses to sloths, but they are all somewhat different and unique.

Niffler does not make a good house pet. #FantasticBeasts

A video posted by Fantastic Beasts Film (@fantasticbeastsmovie) on

In spite of their seemingly frivolous plots and imaginary characters, genre narratives often have more substance than many of their counterparts. Creators have regularly utilized horror, sci-fi and fantasy to deliver social, economic and political commentary to wider audiences. It’s not always the most obvious or even the most important aspect of the story, but that doesn’t negate its presence or the parallels that can be drawn with the real world. While this movie is first and foremost an effective piece of entertainment, there is more to see if one thinks about it. There’s the volatile product of an abusive guardian; the segregation of the magical and No-Maj; the annihilation of things they don’t understand; and the power of memory. These elements are neatly interwoven into the narrative, but can be parsed out if desired.
Redmayne is an excellent selection to carry this new franchise as he exudes an innocent yet playful charm with an underlying sense of justice. Fogler is hilarious as the wide-eyed newb that manages to stay pretty grounded in spite of all the new and fantastic things he learns over the course of his friendship with Newt. Waterston gives Tina a terrific balance of determination and kindness; as a professional, the former often overrules but her heart is always on her sleeve. In spite of being sisters, Sudol portrays her polar opposite; yet, it’s sometimes surprising Queenie can be so cheery while also being privy to people’s darkest thoughts. Consequently, Farrell is always sporting a suspicious, calculating look as if he’s evaluating every situation and how it may fit into his own plans, which based on his expression are decidedly nefarious. His is probably the least compelling character in the film and is not helped by The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus redux.
The Harry Potter series set a high bar and has the added benefit of a nostalgia factor for many fans, so it’s nearly impossible for this film to live up to or exceed those standards. Still, it’s a fun movie that recaptures the spirit of its predecessors (possibly in some part due to the return of Harry Potter director David Yates) and effectively launches a series of films for which audiences can look forward to four sequels — and hopefully more amazing costumes.
Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol
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