I found it difficult to write this review because I kept wanting to just say “stop reading this review and just go see the movie. Just go.”
I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I hadn’t been able to get too excited over the trailers. I figured I’d enjoy it, and it would be a fun new adventure within the mythos of Harry Potter, that it would just be OK. But no, this is my new favorite of these wizarding world movies.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is an introverted wizard, magizoologist, and employee at the Ministry of Magic, and has just arrived in New York City, and he is carrying with him a case of magical creatures. This is supposed to be a brief stop, but some of his creatures are…misplaced. Tensions are already high in the wizarding and No-Maj (the American term for Muggle) world and much of the blame is placed on magical creatures, which are illegal in America. Timing could not be worse for some very large and, in one case, very invisible creatures to be loose in the city.
Newt is comfortable with his creatures, but not so much with people. True to his Hufflepuff house, he cares about people, but he doesn’t really know how to interact with them. The character is expertly portrayed to have that balance of “I don’t know what to do with you” along with an instant care and value for the people around him. He meets Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a former Auror, who is just trying to do the right thing, and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj who gets swept into the magical world after meeting Newt. Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), a mind reader, is also introduced.
When you have a movie that is set in a beloved world, you have a built-in audience. People will see it, and it’s going to do well financially. Often times with those movies, you can go and be like, “The special effects in that movie were amazing, it was worth it for that,” or “The characters…I love those characters,” and have your opinion stop there because the story is merely a shadow of its predecessor. That is, characters are strong but story is weak; effects are amazing, but the story is merely an afterthought.
Fantastic Beasts does a amazing job crafting a story built around dynamic characters living in a beautifully rich and imagined world. The audience gets swept into the What-If of envisioning a wizarding community in 1920s New York. How would it be done? What would it look like? Fantastic Beasts stands alone very well by itself and barely requires the support of the Harry Potter universe in order to be seen as an exceptional film.
There is no profanity or sexual content. Fantasy violence is sprinkled throughout but only to the level that you would expect in the Harry Potter movies. A sinister story arc of characters in the Second Salemers, a group trying to expose and destroy witches and wizards, gets very dark thematically. A child is beaten off screen, but it doesn’t make these parts any less bleak.
Fantastic Beasts is set in a world based on magic and wizards and wizardry. If these elements are something you and/or your family as decided to avoid, then you must respect that conviction.
For me, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the way J.K. Rowling shows the timeless battle between good and evil. And in the end, good always wins.
Heidi Joelle is professional minion by day and a writer, editor, and reader by night. She can be coaxed from the house by the sound of a good adventure, or traveling somewhere new. Her Saint Bernard, Smokey, and problem-solving cat, Diamond, bring extra joy to daily life.