Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them should satisfy all those eager to revisit the magical world created by Harry Potter scribe J.K. Rowling. It’s a fun, fantastical ride that sets the stage for a whole new series of characters and adventures — supposedly four more films’ worth. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything, Les Miz) is endearing as Newt Scamander, a shaggy magizoologist who inadvertently lets several magical creatures loose into 1920s NYC and must get them back into his bottomless suitcase (it must be made of the same stuff as Hermione’s bottomless bag) before all of New York catches on to the city’s secret world of witches and wizards. Harry will read all about it some 70 years later while studying at Hogwarts. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In this story, Harry doesn’t exist yet. Fantastic Beasts is a spin-off in reverse. A prequel of sorts. Here’s the gist:
Newt Scamander pisses off the leaders of MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the USA) when he travels from England to New York to buy some rare creature from a nefarious broker. He’s been traveling the world collecting various creatures and putting them in his little suitcase. Of course, there’s a mix-up with the case. A No-maj (aka American Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) gets drawn into the plot to set things right again, with the help of quirky witch sisters, Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol). They provide the comic relief and emotional heart of the story, while the sub-plots go darker in the hunt for evil forces called Obscurials that have been known to inhabit children and turn them into killers. Or something along those lines. Which is why this is not a movie for the young ‘uns.
Fantastic Beasts isn’t fantastic. But it has the basic ingredients – and cache – to develop into a stronger franchise that will ultimately connect many more dots in the J.K. Rowling universe. And really, who doesn’t love Eddie Redmayne? (Jupiter Ascending notwithstanding. Let’s just ‘obviate‘ that particular performance.)