Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.(NEW YORK) — Here’s the part where I give you my bona fides as a Harry Potter fan: I have none.
Ok, maybe a few. I read the first three books and have seen all of the movies at least twice but, alas, I know that doesn’t make me an expert. So if you’re looking for an in-depth Potterphile analysis of J.K. Rowling’s extension of the Harry Potter universe, this isn’t going to be that.
Instead, I’ll get straight to the point: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could only be more, um, fantastic if it were called Fantastic Beasts of the Southern Wild and Where to Find Them, and Hushpuppy showed up as Newt Scamander’s assistant.
As the wizard and “magizoologist” Newt Scamander, Eddie Redmayne is in his element. His ability to contort his face and just be, well, super British, has rarely served him better. He has an incredible sense of whimsy and curiosity, perfect for this man who has taken a trip to the United States to set one of his fantastic beasts free.
Fantastic Beasts takes place in 1920s New York City. Magic is treated differently in the U.S. than in England. In America, wizards and witches are governed not by the Ministry of Magic, but by the Magical Congress, which works in secret and strictly segregates the magic population from no-magic Muggles – known in America as “No-Maj.” The parallels with today’s political environment, not just here but abroad, are quite obvious and clearly intentional.
Upon Newt’s arrival, carrying a fabulous briefcase full of fantastic beasts, we learn that the wizarding world is under threat from a renegade wizard named Grindelwald and others who frown upon magic. Newt gets swept up in all the action, as he also spends time re-capturing other of the fantastic beasts that have unintentionally escaped from his briefcase and are wreaking havoc in the city.
We’re introduced to a plethora of terrific characters, including the scene-stealing No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), the psychic sister of former Magic Agent Tina (Katherine Waterston). Jacob accidentally gets pulled into Newt’s world, while Tina, trying to get her job back, thinks Newt is a nuisance and has broken the law by bringing his beasts to the States and exposing their magic to the No-Majes. Particularly arresting is Ezra Miller’s Credence, a troubled and abused orphan who may or may not be protecting a secret.
Congratulations to Eddie Redmayne, who, just one year after his Oscar win for The Theory of Everything, gets to create an indelible character and the face of what’s sure to be a stupidly successful franchise. It also It helps to have the person who created this universe, J.K. Rowling, write the screenplay – a first for her.
After directing the final four Harry Potter films, David Yates slips comfortably into this somewhat new Potter realm and deftly directs the first film in the planned series of five, imbuing his images with the same sense of wonder possessed by his lead character.
Though perhaps a little darker than I expected, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is relentlessly endearing. Rowling gives us new characters and creatures to fall in love with, and Newt and company will keep you coming back for more.
Four out of five stars.
Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.