I will start this review by letting you all know it may be colored by the fact that I’m a HUGE Potterhead…so make of that what you will! How is J.K. Rowlings new movie Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them. You’re about to find out in my review!
Having read every Harry Potter novel and seen every Harry Potter film (and a whole lot of fan fiction), I believed for years that J.K. Rowling could do no wrong. However, after the release of the disappointing Cursed Child script earlier this year, I was nervous for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Although not written by Rowling, Cursed Child had her stamp of approval. Was the Harry Potter universe about to suffer over-dilution to the point of ruining everything? No. Fantastic Beasts confirmed, for me, that J.K. Rowling is still a magical writer who can do no wrong.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Newt Scamander, played by Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne, on his first journey to the United States of America as part of finishing his book. It’s easy to see why JKR, at her own admission, was so fascinated by Newt Scamander and felt the need to develop his story. He’s a quirky underdog who loves creatures more than humans and who, in his own words, people find “annoying.” An unlikely hero befit of any JKR story. On his first day in America, he gets arrested by the Ministry of Magic in America and a No-Mag (Muggle) finds his case of creatures, letting them loose upon New York City. He spends the next few days collecting all of his creatures and what follows are great little scenes, including a hilarious mating dance, a thieving Niffler, a destroyed Macy’s department store, and narrow escapes. It is soon discovered, though, that something even darker is haunting New York City…
Like any young adult film, and like Harry Potter itself, Fantastic Beasts is rather predictable and slightly cheesy. Do not go in to Fantastic Beasts expecting an elaborate plot with mysteries you can’t solve. It’s easy to figure out who the bad guys are. However, that didn’t stop me from loving the movie and the characters. My group’s favorite part unanimously was when you got to step inside Newt’s briefcase full of creatures. The visual effects team really brought all of Newt’s creatures to life. You got to see creatures familiar and unfamiliar, all in their own habitats and with their own individual characteristics just as Newt sees them. It was like being on Noah’s Arc…but with significantly more magic.
It was also in this scene that the real star of the movie stole the show: Dan Folger as No-Mag (Muggle) Jacob Kowalski. Jacob is basically all of us if we found out magic was real: “I wanna be a wizard.” He continued to steal the show and quickly became everyone’s favorite character. He’s another unlikely hero we didn’t know we needed (god bless you JKR.) Fantastic Beasts isn’t short of strong female characters either. Katherine Waterston as Goldstein and Alison Sudol as her sister Queenie are powerful women who rarely need saving. The President of the Ministry of Magic in America is even a woman…which is pretty bold for the 1920’s setting.
The movie has great nods to the Harry Potter books and movies (not surprising since Director David Yates directed HP movies 5 to 8) with references to known characters, fights over which wizard school is the best, and a glimpse of the Deathly Hallows mark. Composer James Newton Howard even weaved in the original Harry Potter orchestral theme at all the perfect parts of the movie. And as with any JKR story, there are great lessons: love always wins, the greater good must sometimes prevail, and to always stay true to yourself and what you believe.
Even with these references, Fantastic Beasts is not a Harry Potter film. So do not go into it believing that’s what it is. It’s something different entirely. Being the first movie not based on a known story, it’s the beginning of a new era of the wizarding world (as they say often in the trailers) and it really sets the tone and the setting for the next four films, which I predict will be much darker and more interesting. Fantastic Beasts gives HP fans a peek into the past and into Gellert Grindelwald’s reign of terror, which is a piece of Potter history we know little about. I imagine the subsequent movies will dive into this history even more, though Fantastic Beasts gives no indication of what future plots may be. It is its own self-contained story. A magical story that will remind you of when you first read or saw Harry Potter. I will definitely be seeing it again.