Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Newt Scamander is no Harry Potter, Yet

Courtesy WB

It might not pick up at the same level Harry Potter left off, but it might reach it over time and with a couple more tries.  You didn’t think Rowling and Warner Brothers were going to be One and Done with this, did you?

Set in 1926, Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander – a mysterious traveler who arrives in New York clutching a curious suitcase.  Little does the world know, that suitcase carries magical creatures, and Newt can’t let anyone know, because wizards are living underground and considered dangerous.

Of course, the suitcase accidentally gets switched with one owned by a non-magical person (American wizards call a Muggle a No-Maj, which shows the British just have better imaginations and vocabulary skills than we do), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), so Newt needs to find it and recapture the creatures who have found a way to escape.

And, of course, these creatures are running all over NYC at the same time a dastardly wizard may be up to no good.

Will Newt and his new cohorts in the city find a way to capture the escapees?

Will Newt expose the wizarding word in America and bring danger for those with magical powers?

Who is this dastardly wizard and what does he want?

Director David Yates knows a thing or two about the Harry Potter universe after directing four of the movies, and uses his experience to produce a film long on visual wonder, but short on immediate delivery.

Much of J.K. Rowling’s script seems to be setting up a future installment or two or five as opposed to giving us a full blown stand alone story.  The seeds constantly are being laid as we learn about the world of wizards in America, their leadership, their struggles, their role in society and the oppressive rules that seem to be holding them back from any chance to be accepted within society.

It’s an interesting premise, but the audience has to be left wondering if this is all prologue to the story Rowling truly wants to tell as she drops little nuggets along the way.   The closing scenes of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them prove this out.

Yet, Yates and the creative team do a masterful job giving us visual wonder and awe as we see the unimaginable creatures come to life, whether they be cute and naughty or massive and imposing.  It’s so difficult to give personalities to CGI creatures, but Yates and the team make these CGI creations part of the cast in every way you can imagine.

These creatures and the wild, slapstick comedy they inspire as Jacob and Newt chase them around the city makes one believe Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a movie made for young children who will love the cuteness and cuddliness of these fury friends, but Yates and Rowling quickly abandon this tone for a much darker, sinister and
dangerous look at what is happening in the world of wizards.  It’s too much for the young ones, and the older ones might wish this tone was established earlier instead of attempting to lull us in with soft cuteness first.

While the cast is full of strong performers, Fogler stands out as the star of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Sure, Redmayne does his best to make Newt Scamander a hero, but the character is almost too withdrawn and introverted to win attention from Jacob.

Fogler adds a heaping helping of humanity and vulnerability to a character who could end up as one note comic relief if it wasn’t for his skills as an actor.  Jacob is the one the audience can relate to the most as he struggles to make something of himself and escape the drudgery life wants to condemn him to.  Folger brings a warmth and determination to the character, while also delivering on all attempts at comedy as well.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them might be the start of a strong franchise.

3waffles_sml3 Waffles (Out of 4)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence