Like what Disney is now doing with the Star Wars franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel to the original Harry Potter series which spanned a total of eight movies and a created a widespread cult following. To the normal human being, this is just another Harry Potter spinoff but any Potterhead knows that this film is a big deal (evident from the audible clapping and whistling in the theatre I was in). It is the start of a bigger world of witchcraft and wizardry for them and director David Yates successfully weaves his camera to create a charming new hero in Newt Scamandar (Eddie Redmayne) whose fantasy adventures will enchant viewers to crave for more in the times to come.
The story kicks off in 1926 New York where the No Majs/muggles are suspicious about the existence of the underground wizard community among them given how their city is frequently rampaged by unexplainable forces. Meanwhile, magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York for a mission pertaining to the rare magical creatures he has an abundance of knowledge in. While trying to recapture a puffin-like creature which has escaped from his bottomless suitcase, he bumps into a No-Maj, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and misplaces his briefcase with the No Maj’s. In the process of getting back his suitcase, Kowalski lets loose a few of his animals from the briefcase which is filled with all kinds of creatures and he uses magic on Kowalski which is strictly forbidden in the muggle world due to the anti-wizard sentiment going around. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an Auror in MACUSA catches him in the act and turns Scamander in. However, the both of them soon find themselves on the same side as a powerful new force rises which will threaten the city of New York much more than Scamander’s pets.
This might not seem like a concern to the common filmgoer, but the film has a weird inconsistency in its tone. Scenes seamlessly shift from gazing in awe at the wide array of majestic birds in Newt’s colourful enclosure to darker moments like witnessing subtle forms of physical mistreatment and child abuse. If the Harry Potter saga was anything to follow by, every film in the series gets progressively darker and there was a focus of a single homogeneous tone in every one of those films. There was no outlet for these contrasting tones to have any form of chemistry together and it seems like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was trying to merge the darkness and the light-heartedness together to form something of a higher social commentary but it was just an odd sensation to experience altogether.
There are hardly any lapses in storytelling for this new tale but the character’s motivations, particularly Percival Graves played by Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone, remain mysterious and confusing throughout the film. It is not until the end when it is finally revealed what their true motives are and we are left guessing what their whole deal is until that moment. When all that needs to happen happens, everything feels a bit too underwhelming for what the movie sets out to be and the attention being guided towards finding the Newt’s beasts and keeping them away from harm’s reach felt like a more fulfilling venture.
But for what Fantastic Beasts lacks in, it makes up for in other departments like the expected CGI masterpiece which does justice to Newt’s magnificent creatures. These mythical critters are obviously very imaginatively thought out both in their personality and their design – they come in all shapes and sizes with a unique behaviour for every one of them. Some of them look so adorable that I wouldn’t be surprised if a fan base for these creatures will be struck up tomorrow.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does a solid job of not relying too much on the original Harry Potter saga to propel the fresh material it uses to great heights. It instead builds upon the success of Harry Potter by expanding the realms of the Wizarding World to one where The Boy Who Lived was not yet even born. By the end of the film, it is clear that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them establishes a deeper lore for all fans to revel in and it is a triumph in laying the foundations for the future of this multi-billion dollar franchise.
When that iconic music hits during the title sequence, Potterheads will surely be reminded of the joyful cinematic Potter world they missed so sorely. Blatant easter eggs which nod towards the universe they already know will spoil them further and the endless waves of nostalgia will be hitting them before they know it. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is ultimately not just a treat for the fans but something for everyone to enjoy.
*(I watched it in IMAX 3D. There are certain scenes which really pop out at you but there is nothing noteworthy. The 2D version is just as good if you do not have the cash to splash.)*
Directed by: David Yates (Harry Potter series)
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Based on: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell
Running time: 133 minutes