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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

It may take place in the same universe as that of Harry Potter, but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is its own thing. This is due largely to the notable change in the setting of both time and place: the story takes place entirely in 1920s New York.

Until now, the Harry Potter universe was a decidedly British experience. Here, there is a definite connection: our hero, Newt Scamander (an almost unbearably charming Eddie Redmayne), is the one British character, and he's on a trip to New York, a suitcase full of magical creatures in tow. We learn later in the film that Newt went to Hogwarts (naturally), and that Dumbledore was one of his teachers. But this is where the references to characters and places directly connected to Harry Potter end -- at least for now; presumably there will be more in the inevitable sequels.

J.K. Rowling herself wrote the script, and frankly, she's better at writing books. She's not terrible at scripts, but serviceable. One of the greatest things about her books was the vast discovery of her world-building, and that vastness is by definition constricted within the confines of a 133-minute film. That said, one of the great joys of the early scenes in Fantastic Beasts is watching Newt getting escorted through the Magical Congress of the USA (MACUSA). All of the structural designs have a vaguely art deco look to them, giving the film a decidedly 20th-century-American vibe. (It is a little ironic, however, how many of the other major characters are played by British actors adopting American accents, considering the strictness of the Harry Potter films allowing only British actors to be cast.)

And how fantastic are the beasts in this movie, anyway? Honestly -- not very. I mean, on average. This gets into the special effects, which are also good but not great -- not that that matters a great deal. Indeed, the nature of Fantastic Beasts is that it was for the best to wait until this decade to make a movie like this, where even in the absence of cutting edge effects, the creatures are still rendered convincingly. But there's also the design of the beasts themselves, none of which are particularly awe-inspiring, and that seems like a wasted opportunity. The one particular exception may be the first of these creatures we see, called a Niffler, which looks like a cuter and tinier version of a platypus. Even here, though, its personality rather than effects that are unforgettable. This creature has a thing for shiny objects, especially coins and jewels, and when it escapes it becomes an obsessive pickpocket. This results in a particularly delightful sequence early in the film, as Newt attempts to recapture it. This little beast will likely make an adorable little plush toy.

That leads into what makes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them such a winning movie overall, in spite of all those little wrinkles: it has its own charming personality. Eddie Redmayne can be credited for this more than anything -- he just makes you want to hug him, constantly -- but there's something about the overall world in which he exists. It's actually a bit darker than you might expect; Harry Potter was decidedly for kids, but this one isn't quite (it's rated PG-13). Although a few of the characters are kids, all of the main characters are adults. Some of them have an irresistible innocence to them, though -- certainly Newt does, and so does Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the guy whose suitcase gets mixed up with Newt's, thus bringing these creatures to his apartment, and of course chaos ensues. Kowalski is what Americans call a "no-maj," as in non-majical, the equivalent of a muggle in Britain, and let me just state for the record: "no-maj" is one dumb term.

There is much more to the story than just Newt's magical creatures on the loose in New York City, although a healthy chunk of the movie's runtime is dedicated to that -- and is arguably the most fun. There's also the MACUSA offical with dubious intentions played by Colin Farrell; the sinister witch huntress played by Samantha Morton; Katherine Waterston as Tina,the former Auror who winds up bringing Newt into the MACUSA; and even Alison Sudol as Tina's sister Queenie, who has eyes for Kowalski. It's also fascinating to see the way the United States' magical community's leadership does not mirror that of 1920s America: the MACUSA's president is a black woman (Carmen Ejogo, incidentally yet another British actor).

Newt's creatures on the loose get him tangled up in a broader story linked to the MACUSA which is frankly not as interesting as the beasts themselves, but whatever. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is hugely entertaining from beginning to end and also features adorable (or sometimes just plain weird looking) made-up animals. Very few people with a more than passing interest in this movie are going to be disappointed.

Eddie Redmayne searches for one of the title creatures in FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.

Overall: B+
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