Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack)

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The Harry Potter franchise was far too massive (and profitable) to be allowed just to end. Fortunately, any good fantasy world has the scope for more stories to be told.

And this brings us “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” based (using the term loosely) on a pamphlet-sized “textbook” on magical creatures written by J. K. Rowling. This first movie in a new pentalogy is a relatively solid adventure set in 1920s New York — there are a few tenuous connections to the previous Potter stories, but otherwise this is its tale of whimsical creatures, political oppression, and big swoopy dark cloud things.

Magical zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a magical suitcase filled with strange and wondrous creatures, which he hopes to educate his fellow wizards about. But he runs into trouble almost as soon as he lands — he runs afoul of a stern MACUSA agent named Tina (Katherine Waterston), and his briefcase is accidentally taken by a No-Maj (aka Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). When Jacob opens the suitcase, dozens of magical creatures stream out and begin running wild across the city.

So Newt begins trying to recapture all his escaped creatures, with the assistance of the amazed Jacob, who had never dreamed that witches, wizards, and fantastic beasts could exist. But it so happens that a dark and terrible force is sweeping through New York, brutally killing a senator during a political rally. And unfortunately, the American wizard authorities — led by Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) — immediately blame Newt, forcing the unworldly animal-collector to try to find the true source of all this mayhem.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a movie more for people who love the overall universe of the Harry Potter series than the specific characters. There are a few familiar surnames, a mention of Dumbledore and Hogwarts, but for the most part, it has a cast of all-new characters, a different setting and a different period…. which, oddly, makes it easier for noobs to get acquainted with its universe. Since Jacob Kowalski is learning about the wizarding world and how it works, new viewers can come along for the ride.

The movie is a pretty colorful and energetic affair, with lots of wild action scenes where Newt tries to recapture one of his exotic creatures (including a wild ice-skating escapade, and a slow-mo scene involving a cockroach and a teapot), often with some wacky banter (“But why would I have to wear something like this?” “Because your skull is susceptible to breakage under immense force!”). And the fantastic beasts of the title are pretty entertaining in their right — while they couldn’t carry a movie themselves, the weird and exotic creatures (tentacled quadrupeds, the “Swooping Evil,” leaf-like little creatures, serpent-birds hatched from silver eggs) add a magical tinge to the New York setting.

But it also has a distinctly dark undertone, both magically and politically. The American wizard civilization is a pretty dark and iron-fisted bunch, apparently not hesitating to immediately kill those it saw as being potential breakers of the Masquerade and countered by a group of religious fanatics obsessed with killing witches. And the underlying story is about an out-of-control dark magical energy that seems to swoop in and kill without warning, and a dark wizard is interested in controlling it.

It also has a pretty solid cast — Eddie Redmayne plays Newt’s socially-awkward nerdery with the perfect combo of absent-mindedness and fierce compassion, and he’s balanced out beautifully by the brittle, desperate Waterston, Alison Sudol as the sweet telepathic Queernie, and especially as the first Muggle main character, wide-eyed, good-hearted Fogle. This character’s earnestness and dreams of owning a bakery will melt your heart. The one performance that doesn’t quite click is Farrell — he’s not bad, but he feels strangely remote and subdued, though admittedly that might be on purpose.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” is a solid little period fantasy movie — fans will enjoy a new perspective on the Harry Potter universe, and newcomers might find it a good gateway. And of course, this is just the start.

6 Total Score
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Simply Delightful

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