Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

I thoroughly enjoyed a return to the wizarding world, in the company of my mom, sister Linda and grandson Dayan. We were a mixed group, in regards to familiarity with the Harry Potter universe, and that did not affect anyone’s receptivity of the film or the shared joy we experienced in viewing it. 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, and Colin Farrell. The fantasy adventure was directed by David Yates. This was the debut screenplay for JK Rowling, who also authored the book that the movie is based upon. The film carries a PG-13 rating, for adult themes and mild fantasy violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 13 minutes. 

Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is newly arrived to New York City, in 1926. He carries a mysterious suitcase, from which emanates the growls and roars of wild beasts. Newt immediately creates a stir in the city when one of his magical creatures, a Niffler, escapes from the suitcase. 

Amid the chaos created as Newt attempts to capture the thieving little Niffler in a bank, the young wizard from England meets two unlikely allies. Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) hopes to secure a bank loan to fund his dream of owning a bakery. Jacob is a Muggle, in British terms, a No-Maj (non magical person) as the Americans call them. Friendly and genuine, Jacob accidently grabs the wrong suitcase when he and Newt part company. 

Tina Goldstein (Waterston) observes Newt using magic as he at last captures the mischievous creature. Alarmed that he will expose the wizard community, she takes him into headquarters for questioning. Tina also expresses concern that Jacob left without having his memory wiped. 

However, the American President of Magic and her council aren’t interested in Newt or his suitcase. There is a dark presence making itself known in the city. Newt and Tina are sent away while the council discusses how to discover what is terrifying the people of NYC and how to protect the wizard community. 

Only Percival Graves (Farrell), Director of Magical Security, senses there is more to Newt and his seemingly innocent arrival. 

After finding Jacob and retrieving his suitcase, Newt realizes several beasts have escaped into the city. His fear is not that the magical animals will hurt the citizens of NYC, but that humans will harm his creatures. Newt’s desire is that those in the wizarding world will come to understand and appreciate the fantastic beasts he’s been collecting, studying and writing about. He intends to publish a book about his creatures. 

With Jacob, Tina and her sister Queenie (Sudol) helping him, Newt searches for the missing beasts. As the animals lead them on merry chases throughout the city, the sinister darkness grows, and becomes a threat that must be dealt with when a human life is taken. 

Fantastic Beasts was an incredibly fun and interesting movie to watch. I am familiar with the Harry Potter movies but one does not have to be to appreciate this latest film from the creative genius of JK Rowling. Set approximately 70 years before Harry Potter heads off to Hogwarts School, this story is another adventure set in the same universe, and not a prequel. 

There are, however, plenty of connections between the two stories. As Fantastic Beasts is set to be told in five movies, it is very possible that more bridges between the worlds of Newt Scamander and Harry Potter will be formed. The obvious first link is that the book Newt writes, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is later seen as a textbook used by Harry Potter and his friends in the Hogwarts Library. 

I found much to love about this movie. Eddie Redmayne played the somewhat shy wizard perfectly. I first watched Redmayne portray Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything. He is a gifted and versatile actor who brought charm and compassion to the role of Newt. 

And I couldn’t help but adore Jacob, the No-Maj in the group. He has a good heart, an easy smile, and big dreams. The sisters completing the group of friends bring respectability and warmth into the relationships, with Tina being earnest and rule abiding while Queenie’s tender heart and feelings for Jacob made the audience sigh. 

My own emotions and reactions ran the gamut during the film. I laughed and cheered and sighed, and teared up more than once. It was painful and revealing to watch a major character live under rigid self imposed repression. Such severe denial of self had catastrophic consequences…and I felt sorrow for what the character endured. There is a strong reminder there for me, for all of us, to live as authentic people, whether wizards or muggles, embracing our gifts and sharing them openly with the world, for the benefit of all. 

I left the theater with questions and a great deal of speculation about what will happen next to these endearing characters introduced in the first film. I am filled with anticipation for the next installment in the Fantastic Beasts movies.