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Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – “Wondrous and ever-impressive”

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FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is based on J.K. Rowling’s short book of the same name. Originally appearing in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as a set text for first year Hogwarts students, Rowling later wrote the book in full, and now has written the screenplay for the film adaptation.

The film is directed by David Yates who directed all the Potter films from Order of the Phoenix onwards, and has also signed on for the already announced Fantastic Beasts 2-5. Eddie Redmayne (Jupiter Ascending) stars, alongside Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller and Samantha Morton.

Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is a magizoologist who, after being expelled from Hogwarts, has embarked on a round-the-world trip to collect and research magical creatures for a book. Newt has just arrived in 1920s New York, and while negotiating the Americans slightly different attitudes and approaches to wizardry – “No-Maj” not “Muggle”, etc. – he accidentally gets his case of creatures swapped with that of a baker, Kowalski (Dan Fogler).

The beasties get loose and Newt and Kowalski team up with two witch sisters, Porpentina and Queenie (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol aka Fine Frenzy), to track them down, but the Head of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Farrell), is hot on their trail. Elsewhere, wizards, witches, and magic itself, are also under threat from a newspaper magnate (Jon Voight), and the brutal head of a children’s home (Samantha Morton), who beats the magic out of her orphans (including Ezra Miller) and is campaigning for a second Salem.

Yeah, there’s a lot going on, and as the first in this new franchise Fantastic Beasts has an awful lot of heavy lifting and world building to do. As such the pacing sometimes ebbs and flows as it crams and explains, but such is the wonder of Rowling’s imagination that all of this stuff is interesting, and sweeps you happily along, laughing, gawping, and wondering where all the pieces are going to continue to fit down the line.

The world that Rowling and Yates have conjured is wondrous and ever-impressive, with a whole new American Ministry of Magic, the MCUSA, to explore; and speakeasies full of goblin lounge singers and gangsters. The hair and wardrobe work throughout is fun and evocative, and the “beasts” are not just fantastic – they are brilliant.

You will probably fall in love with every one of Fantastic Beasts’s critters, from a shiny-things-seeking platypus, to a long blue haired sloth, to a glowing lady hippo-rhino. A scene where Newt has to “entice” this creature, who happens to be in season, is absolutely hilarious and shows Redmayne’s gift for physical comedy as he struts, bends and wiggles. He is clearly having a good time here, as is Colin Farrell as Graves: sexy and dangerous and really putting his shoulders and hips into his wandwork. The fun of seeing so many magically proficient adults throwing curses and spells around is so great that you would barely miss Hogwarts, if not for the handful of nods scattered throughout.

Those fantastic beasts themselves come close to stealing the show, but for the film’s secret weapon: Dan Fogler as Kowalski. A muggle just trying to get a loan so he can make everyone happy with his cakes, Kowalski’s reactions to what he sees and hears of the magical world are solid gold throughout, providing plenty of massive laughs, as well as a touching romance with Queenie that feels sweet, and not shoehorned in.

The film ends with two very obvious reveals, one of which is a bit of a worry going forward casting-wise, but overall and throughout Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them is a delight and an exciting new chapter in the magical world of Harry Potter.

4-out-of-5

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