“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” marks J.K. Rowling’s return to the big screen, where her world of witches and wizards once again springs to life in a delightful “Harry Potter” prequel (although there are a limited number of references to the Potter movies).
The story is set in the 1920s in New York City, where Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne arrives with a suitcase of bizarre creatures. The United States, it seems, has banned “magical beasts,” so it’s important that the suitcase remain closed … which, of course, it doesn’t.
Scamander, who wants to protect the creatures, gets involved in the typical movie-suitcase switcheroo, which ensues in enough twists and turns to keep it from being a cliché. The fellow who ends up with the critters is a “No-Maj,” the same as a Muggle, which is someone who does not have special powers. Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, television’s “The Goldbergs”) unwittingly allows several of the creatures to get loose in lower Manhattan.
Simultaneously, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) leads an investigation into a series of unusual disturbances that may reveal the wizard world to the public at large.
Kowalski and Scamander team up with two magical sisters (Katherine Waterson and Alison Sudol) to round up the beasts and find out what’s at the root of the oddball occurrences.
At a time when so many real animals are endangered, it’s nice to see Scamander on his mission to save some of the creatures considered to be illegal. Also, the beasts themselves are a delight, in particular an echidna-type mischief-maker who steals shiny objects such as coins and jewelry.
David Yates directed the last four Potter films, so it’s no surprise that the welcome familiar tone and look of this one are in keeping with the last we saw of Harry Potter.
Although Redmayne does have the lead role, he often takes a back seat to his co-stars, both flesh-and-bone and gloriously computer-generated (see this in 3D if you can – it’s well worth it). Sudol, for example, steams up glasses for miles around with her sultry, mind-reading Queenie character. Fogler, who channels a distinctly John Candy vibe in several scenes, earns and owns a lot of screen time as an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances … and loving every minute of it.
Toward the end of the film you will see the Best. Cameo. Ever. that is almost worth the price of admission in itself.
Potter fans will love finding the connections to their beloved franchise, while fantasy fans will enjoy the beginnings of a new one.