a critiQal film review Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Plot: The year is 1926, and Newt Scamander (Redmayne) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident, were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt's fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.

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After thoroughly enjoying the HARRY POTTER series, fans of all ages were eager when they heard author J.K. Rowling had another movie series in the works. So, when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arrived in theaters, people flocked in droves. And the reviews came back saying it was a good time, too. Alas, we couldn’t afford to see this new film in theaters, so had to wait. Now, however, was our chance to see if this film was worth it, or if this was another series we were planning on skipping.

Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, a writer and creature caretaker in the same wizarding world as Harry Potter. Like Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Redmayne had a job ahead of him trying to portray a character people had only heard about before. Thankfully, Redmayne is up to the task, and portrays Newt with an endearing charm, easily getting viewers to warm up to him, and look forward to seeing more of his adventures in the sequels to come.

While Katherine Waterston is decent in her role as an ex-auror in 1926 New York, it’s the unlikely duo of Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler who really light up the screen together. As the ex-auror’s sister and a “non-mag” (the American term for a muggle), these two are the biggest highlights of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While Sudol portrays a kindly wizard with mind-reading capabilities, it’s Fogler’s view of the wizard world that lends the film a magical quality. While anyone it seems can conjure up CGI creatures these days (and many films do), it’s Fogler’s wide-eyed wonderment of it all that really brings the magic alive for the viewer. Like Fogler, the viewer is witnessing these creatures and events for the first time, and his awe at what he sees really helps bring the viewer’s attention to the fantastical events going on.

It’s a nice trick that other films have tried as well (including the afore-mentioned Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)), but Fogler’s role as a secondary character in the film – rather than the primary one this trick is normally used on – really opens things up for the viewer. Like Fogler’s character, the viewer can be said to be a secondary character in any movie. making the experience that much more wonderful. After all, while they don’t actually participate, who else but the viewer is a film made for? Smart move on the film’s part, to be sure.

While the main plot focuses on an unknown monster on the loose, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is really all about introducing Newt Scamander to audiences. With the main story taking second stage to Newt and his friends for most of the film, the unseen monster is there just to set up the finale of this first film. Mainly, this is just Newt’s introduction, and it hits a lot of the right notes. Many more than HARRY POTTER and the SORCERER’S STONE did (and look how that series turned out!)

The special effects are outstanding. Like all of the HARRY POTTER series, a lot of time and detail has gone into making the special effects top-notch and they don’t miss a beat. Whether it’s something as small as a tiny, leaf monster or the powerfully large falcon creature, every creature fits right in with both the scenery and the characters around them. Even the interactions between actors and CGI monsters blend seamlessly, which is a lot more than can be said for a lot of films that try the same trick.

With a solid cast, the ability to entwine the viewer in the wonderment thanks to Dan Fogler’s “non-mag”, good doses of humor, romance and thrills, and top-notch special effects that don’t overwhelm the human concerns, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a delightfully good beginning to this new series by J.K. Rowling. While viewers may at first be hoping for a glimpse of Harry Potter (despite a totally different time setting and no hints about him whatsoever), by film’s end they will come away feeling good about the film overall. That’s a lot more than can be said for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) – and in that film, they got to see a whole lot of “the boy who lived”. In this film, he doesn’t pop up at all, and the film’s actually a much better first entry.

Now, all we gotta do is wait to see if the upcoming Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald can be anywhere near as good as this first film. Let’s hope so.

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