Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the latest movie to grace the Harry Potter Universe. Focusing on the adventures of Newt Scamander, this installment introduces a magical world outside the London world that we’re used to, opening the doors to a new realm of magic. Set in New York in the 1920’s, Newt Scamander arrives to America for his own reasons, only to have some of his creatures accidentally set loose in the city, threatening the exposure of wizarding folk.
The movie is divided into two stories: the capture of Newt’s creatures, and the mysterious happenings that has wrecked havoc in the city, causing a frenzy in the wizarding world. In any case, Newt gets entangled into the mess, leading the two story lines to merge at the latter part of the movie. New characters are introduced, with some of them linking to the familiar wizard world that we have seen for eight installments.
With this being the first of five movies, it sets the stage for the second installment through the introduction of a new but familiar character. While this serves as a starting point for that new story, I couldn’t help but compare this to Sorcerer’s Stone, as the first Potter movie opens with the construction of the wizarding world. While the Potter movie evokes curiosity of the workings of magic, in this prequel, the existence is already established, so the only world building to see is the societal construction of the wizarding world. JK Rowling has been releasing content regarding the American wizarding community online, and I’m not sure if reading said content would give a better grasp of the new community, but the world building was less detailed. It could be because the world isn’t really the focus (reports have surfaced that the sequel is set in a different place), but when a new environment has been introduced, you’d want more details. Although since they dwell alongside non-magical folk, there is only so much that can be explored.
In terms of performance, there wasn’t really a standout one, but I mostly love how this went with casting. Eddie Redmayne was all right as Scamander; it’s not a praise-worthy performance but I think he got bits of his character nailed right. It’s so nice to see Katherine Waterston cast in a big movie, she doesn’t appear a lot on big films and she is a good actress. I think the awkwardness of both their characters could make their pairing great if done well. Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler, while playing supporting characters, are funny and added charm to the movie. The only miscast for me was Johnny Depp. I can’t imagine him playing Grindelwald, and with the second movie shifting its focus to his character, I wonder how it’ll all play out.
The highlight of the movie are clearly the different kinds of beasts – from large, majestic ones, to the smallest plant-like creatures that can pick locks. Some of these beasts are attention-grabbing, like the niffler that is the center for some comic relief, or the rhino-type animal that was in heat. Another thing that amazed me was how much that suitcase could hold; way much better than Hermione’s pouch.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them certainly reminds us that the Harry Potter universe will be staying a lot longer. It’s not as magical as the Potter movies, but a good start to a franchise.
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol
Director: David Yates