Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

fantastic_beasts_and_where_to_find_them_ver15As I mentioned in my review of Doctor Strange, I love magic.

I love reading stories that have it and watching movies that embrace it.

I came late to the Harry Potter books. I started reading them after the first movie came out and a friend bought me a collection of the first five books.

I was enraptured. I read through them quickly and awaited each new addition to the story with much excitement. I awaited each movie with the same excitement.

After the series ended, I was sad that there would be no more.

When I heard that there would be a new movie based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I was conflicted. I was overjoyed that I would be getting back into this world that fit me like a pair of comfortable socks. I was disappointed that the characters I had come to love would not be taking the stage yet again. I was worried that the magic that I had come to love in the previous movies would be absent.

My worries were unfounded and disappointment overwhelmed with joy at this new entry into the Harry Potter universe.

Fantastic Beasts takes the audience to 1926 America. Newt Scamander has arrived via steamer to complete some unfinished business. He has been traveling the world cataloging the varied magical beasts to better educate the wizarding world about their value and the need to not exterminate them. Newt has come searching for information of creatures here in america as well as to travel further into the country. In his short time here, he runs across a street preacher that speaks out against the witches that hide among the populace.

He runs across an affable no-mag, american for muggle, Kowalski at the bank. Kowalski is looking to get a loan to open a bakery. While Kowalski is speaking with the bank manager, Newt must find a creature that has escaped from his luggage. It is this frantic search that leads to Kowalski becoming entangled with Newt and bringing Newt to the attention of the congress of magic for America.

What follows is an adventure of magical proportions. Creatures run rampant, conspiracies are exposed, and villains thought escaped are captured and brought to justice.

I loved it!

The four main characters are solid. They are all likeable and give the audience an excellent entry into the story. Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Ben Fogler, Alison sudol all turn in solid performances. Each character has a heart that reaches off the screen and connects with the audience. They are far from the top levels of power but endearing in their own way. Newt is socially awkward yet intelligent, quick, and caring. He does not want to offend his american hosts but will not give up his search for his missing creatures. Kowalski is a the friendly muggle that is both in awe of the world that he has stumbled upon as well as providing a grounding for rest of the group as they pursue their various agenda. Tina Goldstein is a failed Auror desperate to get herself back into the good graces of the congress. She is earnest and eager with a heart full caring that sometimes overrides the need for discretion and circumspection. Queenie, Tina’s sister, works as a secretary and servant at the congress and dreams of doing more.

The effects on display in Fantastic Beasts are simply stunning. The magical combats that occur are fast and furious. They encapsulate what I imagine when wizards settle in for a good fight. The creatures that are on display range from the cute and cuddly to the awe-inspiring. Each is given a personality that jumps off the screen and makes you connect with the creature in almost the same way that you connect with the characters. I also loved the method in which the creatures were transported. It echoes Doctor Who and makes me love a piece of luggage as much as I love the Rincewind’s luggage.

I also appreciate that, despite a standard plot, Fantastic Beats avoid some common tropes. The expectations is for the heroes of the story is for them to transform across the breadth of the story into something approaching the standard cinematic hero. Newt remains his shy and awkward self, just a little more aware of those around him. Tina does not transform into a glamorous bon vivant that is the toast of the town but just get up the courage to show her affection for Newt. The changes the characters undergo are subtle yet powerful which was refreshing to see on the big screen.

My one quibble with the movie is the lack of diversity in the cast. If you look at the line up and compare it to The Cursed child, Fantastic Beasts is fairly disappointing on this point. the only major character to step outside the norm is Seraphina, played by Carmen Ejogo and her time on the screen is minimal. It is very disappointing and I hope this is something that the studio will aim to fix in future movies.

As I mentioned earlier, I loved Fantastic Beasts. It hits all the Harry Potter buttons that I want while providing an entertaining story. I easily lose myself in this world and love these four characters. My hope is that we get to revisit these characters while adding a bit more diversity to the cast.

Four bear paws out of four and well worth seeing a few times at the theater.

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