REVIEW – “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
It’s hard for me to believe that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 came out five years ago this year. It’s even harder for me to believe that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released fifteen years ago. Beyond that? JK Rowling published her first installment in the beloved franchise almost TWENTY years ago. This has been a beloved franchise from the get-go, and it was inevitable that Deathly Hallows wouldn’t be the last we saw of our beloved Wizarding World. Fast forward to 2016 and we have Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is loosely inspired by a fun little novel Rowling wrote back in 2001. The novel was a fictional textbook from the character Newt Scamander, and is the textbook that Harry and his friends study at Hogwarts when learning about the Fantastic Beasts that inhabit their world.
However, the film itself follows a young Newt (Eddie Redmayne) in a 1920’s New York City. Early on in the film, Newt accidentally mixes his suitcase full of magical creatures up with one of a Muggle’s (or as the American’s refer to them as, No-Maj) named Kowalski, played by wonderfully by Dan Folger. After the creatures are released and Kowalski is exposed to the world of magic, an agent from the Magical Congress of the United States of America named Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie, have to help Newt collect the creatures back into his suitcase, before any more humans are exposed or creatures cause more damage in the city. With that, the film has an incredible playground to run around in… and for the most part, the film does a fantastic job at exploring the wonders of the creatures and the time period they’re placed in.
The production value in this film is absolutely outstanding to look at. From the cinematography to the beautiful set-pieces, David Yates truly outdoes himself here and truly makes it feel like a 1920’s America. I was also impressed by how gorgeously designed all of the creatures in this film were, with a distinct personality trait to each of them. Some of my favorites include the Demiguise, which can both make itself invisible and predict the future, making for a really fun sequence towards the end when they’re trying to catch an Occamy. I also really enjoyed the Thunderbird’s story, and how Newt keeps him until he can safely get him back to his home in Arizona. However, my favorites were Niffler and Bowtruckle.. I live in Orlando near The Wizarding World at Universal Studios, so I’m sure to buy any stuffed Niffler’s or Bowtruckle’s that I can get my hands on. Any time that Niffler stole gold or the Bowtruckle stuck his small tongue out, it got a hefty laugh out of me.
The creatures are there, the production value is there, the cinematography is there… so obviously the money is there. But the real question has to be is the heart there? It’s interesting to say that I found moments of Fantastic Beasts to be some of the most warm the franchise has ever been, and moments where it is the darkest it has ever been. The film rides a fine line between the two, but is always genuine whenever it goes towards either side of the spectrum of tone. The film is mostly upbeat, however. It’s mainly an adventure film led by Newt and his band of misfits, who all have wonderful chemistry with one another. I’m a huge fan of Katherine Waterston and Eddie Redmayne, so I thought they performed wonderfully off of one another here within a subtle romance. My favorite character in the film was easily Kowalski, who Dan Folger brings to life tremendously. The character isn’t the bumbling Muggle (ugh, No-Maj isn’t nearly as cool to type) like I thought he would be. Kowalski has a ton of heart, was important to the story, has a great relationship with Tina’s sister Queenie, and was even a crucial backbone to the film! I don’t know if I’d like it nearly as much if he wasn’t in it.
While I actually enjoyed seeing the politics lay-out within this era of the Wizarding World, I found some of it to be muddled and sometimes it interrupted the fast pace of the film whenever Yates found it necessary to cut away from Newt and go towards something darker. The way they incorporated the paranoia of the 1920’s and how they made witches/wizard discrimination an allegory for racism was interesting, but I don’t know if they blended the narrative into the film as organically as possible. I liked Colin Farrell a lot in the film, and I think Ezra Miller gives a great performance, but I wish they tightened their end of the script up and had it blend with the rest of the film a bit stronger. Even with that one glaring issue I had with the film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is some of the most fun I’ve had at the theater this year and a visual feast for the eyes. I highly recommend it for anyone who grew up with this world like I did. 4/5.