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REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

To generations of children and adults alike, Harry Potter is one of the greatest book franchises ever, centring on a young boy who is told he is a wizard and sent to study magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The seven book series spanned eight films, a theatre production, tonnes of merchandise as well as theme parks across the world.

With so much already coming from author J.K. Rowling’s magical realm, what else could fans ask for? How about a separate franchise based on a school book used by Hogwarts students? Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them transfers from the modern magical world of England to 1920’s New York and introduces us to magical beast explorer Newt Scamander. With the same team as the original franchise, Beasts is highly anticipated by fans and luckily, despite a few bumps, the film is a good addition to the Potteruniverse.

Explorer and Magical beast protector Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City carrying a case filled with magical creatures. When one of his creatures escapes, he reveals his magic to a No-Maj (muggle), Jacob (Dan Fogler). Newt is arrested by Tina (Katherine Waterston) looking to gain favour with her former employers. Once the case is fully opened, the magical authorities must gather to stop magic being exposed and stop the attacks that are happening across the city. But are Newt’s creatures the things really attacking the city?

The new franchise is based on the famed book of the same name by explorer Newt Scamander within the Potter realm. The book is used by students at the Wizarding school and is seen as the essential guide to magical creatures. Beasts has the same team as the Harry Potter franchise, including producer David Heyman and director David Yates, who took over duties from Order of the Phoenix onwards. The main draw here though is that Harry Potter creator, J.K. Rowling, has written the screenplay herself.

The first act, despite some serious cuteness, feels thrown together. It serves its purpose of bringing all the main players together and setting the premise but is a wobbly start. Particularly the way in which the suitcase is lost is too slapstick in tone. From act two, once all the players are in, the narrative flows easier and viewers are left to engage with the characters and marvel at the setting and creatures.

Just like the original franchise, the film soars with impressive set pieces as well as incredible special effects. The 1920’s American backdrop has been fused with the magical world fans love and the result is a joy to behold.

Of course, anyone seeing the film will wonder how the beasts themselves look. The most wondrous sequence happens when Newt climbs inside his case. If you think Hermione Granger’s undetectable extension charm was impressive, wait to you see inside this. Newt walks No-Maj friend Jacob through his selection of magical creatures and why he chooses to protect them. Like much of Rowling’s work the message of tolerance and to treat fellow creatures well is seen throughout the narrative.

The cast of Brit and American talent impresses here, led by the boyishly charming Redmayne; able to portray Newt as awkward and introverted along with his own charm and showmanship. The scene where he must perform a mating ritual will remain with audiences as well as his interactions with the beasts.

Strong support comes from Fogler (who nearly steals the show), Waterston and Alison Sudol, as the group who form to help Newt find his creatures and stop the attacks on New York. Colin Farrell plays Ministry villain Graves with menace but feels underused for such an actor.

Despite the impressive cast, some characters do not work in this new expanded universe. Ezra Miller is a talented young actor but here, as tortured Credence, his performance is overblown and awkward. Audiences will struggle to connect to him despite his harrowing premise.

For Potter die-hards the film is brimming with references and connections to the original books which fans will enjoy spotting. While delighting the more observant, the references also hint at potential directions for the following four films in this franchise.

Although the narrative has some of the pitfalls of a franchise opener, Fantastic Beasts proves an enjoyable addition to the Harry Potter universe. With the same impressive set pieces and visuals effects that helped the original films to soar. The potential of a growing realm make this one to watch.


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