Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, rated PG-13
Five years after the final Harry Potter film (Deathly Hallows: Part 2), comes this film that is adapted by J.K. Rowling, in her first turn at writing the screenplay for a film, adapted from her 128 page 2001 book. This is the first of five planned films to be based on Rowling’s short book, which is now available in a new screenplay edition. Rowling has stated that the film is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was published in 1927, became a massive bestseller as well as an approved textbook at Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school of witchcraft and wizardry.
The film is directed by David Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films, and has an estimated budget of $180 million. Oscar nominee Steve Kloves returns form the Potter films as producer.
The film takes place in New York in 1926. Shy and quirky British magizoologist Newt Scamander is played by two time Oscar nominee and Best Actor winner for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne, who had auditioned for the role of Tom Riddle in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but was turned down after reading one line. Newt travels the world collecting endangered magical creatures and arrives in the city looking for new additions. He has all kinds of these creatures in his worn brown leather suitcase.
There are witches and wizards in the city, but they mostly stay out of sight of the No-Majs, short for no magic, as humans are called in America (as opposed to Muggles in Britain). There is a Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), the American version of the British Ministry of Magic. When Newt accidently exchanges his suitcase with a No-Maj baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) the effect is that a number of the creatures in the suitcase are unleashed into the streets of the city, leading to a frantic search to find them. When Newt is spotted by Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, (Katherine Waterston), an investigator who for some reason is on thin ice in her job with MACUSA, she hauls him in for questioning.
We see something evil and dangerous in the city. It has been occasionally destroying buildings, throwing vehicles, etc. It is referred to as Obscurus, a massive magical force that swirls around in a destructive black cloud.
The film also shows us magic-fearing protesters, led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) who takes children from the magic families she exposes. One of those, the bullied and abused Credence Barebone (Ezra Miler), has secret meetings with the powerful and power-hungry Percival Graves (Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell) who works for Madame President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo from Selma).
Tina and Newt will eventually become good friends, and with Jacob and Tina’s sister, the mind-reading Queenie (Alison Sudol), will work together to try to prevent Mary Lou and Percival from exposing the magical world to the No-Majs.
We are told of a powerful dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, who has gone missing. Readers of the Harry Potter books will recall Grindelwald (here played by Johnny Depp) as an older man. Grindelwald will play a major role in the future films in this series.
Parents who were concerned with the magic and wizards in the Harry Potter books and films will have the same concerns here. The film also contains some violence, primarily as a result of the mysterious Obscurus.
What did I like about the film? A lot! The cast was excellent, especially Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. They had great chemistry, and I enjoyed their partnership with Waterston’s Tina. The 1926 New York City sets and costumes were excellent and the beasts were, dare I say, fantastic? In addition, the magical effects were at times incredible.
What could have been better? Some of the dialogue could have been better. At times the film moved slowly. Although there is really a lot going on in this first film, perhaps the film could have been edited down from its 133 minutes. In addition, the destruction caused by Obscurus goes on too long, as it does in some Marvel films.
Note: Some critics have written of Rowling using the film as an anti-fascist political allegory (Fascism definition: a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government). Perhaps that is in here if you are looking for it. I saw it more as the wizarding world trying to stay out of sight from the No-Majs.