At a time when the magic of machines and motorcars were ensnaring the public’s imagination, the 1920’s were an age in which ones’ wildest dreams could come to life. If there were anywhere you could perhaps discover fantastic dragons and levitating teacups, it would be at this time, within the dark underbelly of New York City. This is the world at the heart of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them – at once wonderfully recognisable, yet darkly mysterious. Within the grey-scale city apartment blocks and underground speak-easy bars, the clandestine worlds of the wizard and No-Maj (non-magical) meet. It is a backdrop of discord and underlying prejudice that proves perfect for exploring the threats to fantastical creatures of all kinds.
When idealistic beast anthropologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), bumbles off the boat from England and into the wilds of New York, we too are led to stumble into a world in which an anthropomorphic stick insect shares space with dark, destructive magical forces. Working towards the Conservation of magical creatures, Scamander carries his passion close to his heart – both metaphorically and physically, in the form of his rather unreliable suitcase that houses a collection of all manner of beasts. With something so unreliable, it should hardly have been such a surprise to him when the contents burst free in the middle of New York City, sparking an adventure that threatens the anonymity of the entire wizarding world.
Redmayne as Scamander is a perfect fit. His movements are often jittery and somewhat self-conscious, giving him the impression of a creature himself – something birdlike and endearing. But it is not until the introduction of comic sidekick Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) that the plot begins to gain momentum. Jacob, a non-magical pastry baker, whose wonderment at wizardry is often giddy and childlike, provides a great deal of the films humour and stands as an everyman, through which the audience can fully step into the movie. Porpentina, a disgraced auror who aids Scamander on his journey of collecting his escaped creatures, is both capable and compassionate, yet her backstory is only given true credence during the final part of the movie.
The film provides a blend of comedy and drama that proves enjoyable for all audiences – a familiar tone that is to be expected from the films director, David Yates, who directed the final four films in the Harry Potter franchise. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is similarly nuanced and easily moves from grand allegories of good and evil, to the small joys of a homemade apple Danish.
The plot itself offers a lot more than just an exposition of various magical beasts and there are multiple plot lines that come together in a surprisingly elegant finish. Indeed, the many layers of the movie are as beguiling as a form of magic, reliant upon the misdirection of Scamander’s magical animals. The focus of the movie evolves from the freedom of fantastic beasts and instead becomes a darker examination of prejudice – not one focused solely on magical animals, but on the fantastic and misunderstood people that populate Rowling’s world. The central message of the film is ultimately very poignant and very human – one of acceptance and celebration in the face of difference.
If I have any qualms about the movie, it would be the heavy use of CGI. The Harry Potter films made a point of combining makeup and prosthetics with animation to construct their creatures, something that Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them does not. The result makes for realistic smaller creatures, but larger animals that sometimes fail to amaze.
People who are voicing their disappointment in the movie were perhaps hoping for another Harry Potter film, and whilst there is plenty of name-dropping and nostalgia, this is a creature of an entirely different breed. Do not expect the boy wizard, or an elderly gentleman with a truly prolific beard, or to stumble once again through the grounds of Hogwarts. This film is for another generation, one that didn’t grow up with the books or movies as they were being released. It is, in essence, a different kind of magic entirely.
Rating = 4/5
This is coronawithawolf’s first post on my blog and there will hopefully be many more to come! What did you think of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them? Do you think more films are needed in the Potter Universe?