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Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them




Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

11/24/16
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (PG-13)

Return to the Harry Potter universe, but many decades pre-Potter and this time in America, with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, the first of a planned five —  five! — film series from J.K. Rowling.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizarding world naturalist, carrying around a zoo’s worth of magical creatures in his suitcase. He comes to America in the mid 1920s to release one into its natural habitat of Arizona. But moments after arriving in New York City, Newt loses a groundhog-platypus-like creature that likes to collect shiny objects. Chasing it around a bank, he accidentally draws the notice of muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who was at the bank trying to get a loan to start a bakery, and of magical-type Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). 
Tina works for the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic and was an investigator. She’s been bumped back to office work because of an incident involving Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), a regular human, presumably, and an anti-witch activist. Because Tina’s run in with Mary Lou exposed the human world to magic — not letting the no-majs know about magical people is the operating principle of the U.S. wizard agency — she lost her position. Perhaps bringing in Newt is her attempt to get back in the agency’s good graces.
Unfortunately for her, the agency isn’t that interested in what they think is just a customs issue. There are bigger problems in New York City, in the form of a mysterious force causing destruction that is garnering the muggles’ notice. Agency muckety-muck Graves (Colin Farrell) is attempting to find whatever is causing all the mischief and get a handle on it before it exposes the wizarding world and causes a war between magic and non-magic people.
Or is he? His side conversations with Credence (Ezra Miller), the abused son of Mary Lou, seem to indicate that he might know what’s causing all the problems and want to find it off the official books.
Meanwhile, Newt is just trying to gather up all the creatures that escaped from his suitcase, which was briefly swapped with a sample case full of baked goods carried by Jacob. Newt and Jacob work together, eventually with the help of Tina and her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), to attempt to recapture the dragon-y thing, the rodent-y thing, the bulbous rhinoceros, the platypus-like thing, a blue bee and the other stuff that went skittering into the unsuspecting city. 
So, to clarify, you have the more straightforward adventure of Newt and his creatures surrounded by a bunch of darker stuff about a besieged minority group, a fringe-y but virulent hate group, the dangers of what can happen to young wizards who suppress their real selves and a couple of cynical-seeming baddies poised to take advantage of this situation. (One of these is a newspaper owner played by Jon Voight whose character here feels more like a setup for some future payoff.) The central story of Newt that I think is supposed to supply most of this movie’s whimsy didn’t feel whimsical at all to me. Redmayne’s Newt feels less like a quirky hero and more like a guy in a costume staring at a dot that will eventually be a CGI something. He feels like a character who is being shoved through the story more than a person choosing an adventure. I didn’t find myself connecting with him or wanting to see more of his exploits.
The rest of the movie just felt bleak — bleak in an unearned way, perhaps meant to give heft to the “goofy creatures” portion of the movie or provide stakes to help the story sustain many future chapters. But I have to want to make that journey and this movie didn’t introduce a lot to excite me about heading back into this world.
I will say that around the edges there are moments of, if not fun exactly, nifty imagination in Fantastic Beasts. I like the idea that, even though they’re magic, wizards to some degree lived through the same Great War and Jazz Age as humans, and the movie gives us glimpses into how those periods looked in this parallel world. The idea of magical beasts that perhaps exist on the edge of the human world but somehow just outside its notice (in a way never really explained) has some fun to it. There’s something interesting in the idea that wizards approach these creatures the same way humans approach the stranger elements in the natural world — that is to say, some people want to study the big strange thing and other people want to hunt it and stuff it. 
And, of the central foursome, Redmayne is the weakest link. Waterston’s Tina, Sudol’s Queenie and Fogler’s Jacob are more entertaining in the way you’d expect for a magical caper, kind of a pack of complementary Ron Weasleys adding much-needed lightness.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them might be the start of a delightful franchise, but I wish it had paid more attention to being a complete and entertaining movie in its own right. C+
Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence. Directed by David Yates with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is two hours and 13 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros. 





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