Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

When it comes to creating fantastical worlds, nobody is ever going to come close to Tolkien.  But J.K. Rowling might be second.  I imagine if you ask her for the magical history of say tiny alpine nation Andorra or any other obscure place, she’d be able to tell you or at least make up something on the spot that would work.  Her imagination is that thorough and fertile.

So if she wants to set a story in 1920’s New York, I say let her.  And if she wants to write the screenplay, give her a shot.  She’s earned it.

In the Harry Potter books she mentions several standard text books.  One of them is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander.  In 2001 she wrote a slim volume by this title, donating the proceeds to charity.  Like everything she creates the figure of Newt Scamander didn’t just remain a name that she only gave a few seconds of thought to.  In her mind a character grew around it and then happily a story in which to place that character.  And eventually a world in which to set the story.

Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, arrives in New York with a beat up briefcase that holds several species of fantastic beasts.  The suitcase is magic and is much larger on the inside.  One escapes and in the ensuing chaos, Newt’s case gets exchanged with an almost identical one owned by a muggle, or as they are known in the States, a no-maj, named Jacob Kowalsky, played by Dan Fogler.  Jacob accidentally lets two more beasts escape and while the first one was more annoying than actually dangerous, the other two have the potential to do real damage.

But unknown to Newt there is already something in New York that is far more dangerous than anything in his suitcase.

Fantastic Beasts, while not as good as the best of the Harry Potter films, is still an entertaining movie.  Eddie Redmayne is very sympathetic as the first magizoologist and a person much more at ease with animals than people.  It’s amazing to watch his confidence grow, when the subject of fantastic beasts arises and the necessity of dealing with his fellow humans is forgotten.  Katherine Waterston plays Tina, a passionate and ambitious bureaucrat who was demoted from being a auror (a police officer in the magic world) because she openly attacked a no-maj who was abusing a child.  She’s smart and wants to do the right thing but has been humbled.  Waterston does a good job.

Dan Fogler’s Jacob serves as our viewpoint to the magic world, much as Harry did in the books.  He plays a working class veteran of the First World War who’s in a dead end job but dreams of opening a bakery.  It is an engaging performance with humor and sympathy.

Rowling’s screenplay is pretty good.  The film has a leisurely pace that allows room for characterization.  It never really drags although it maybe could have been tightened up a little.  Obviously she has an ear for dialog and her character names are as inventive as ever.

The film captures the wonder of the magical world with clothes and dishes washing themselves and other miracles that go unremarked upon but which to Jacob are amazing.  So it’s no surprise that Fantastic Beasts is a visual treat, adding the classic look of 1920’s décor and architecture to Rowling’s magical world.  The film is well worth seeing in the theater and in 3D.

Fantastic Beasts is not the major event film like the last few installments of the Harry Potter series but it is a fine addition to J.K. Rowling’s creation.

 

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