It seems like it’s been a lifetime since the last Harry Potter film graced our screens, and for Harry Potter fans (like moi) it’s a special kind of magic to see another. Our first foray into the wizarding world centred around Mr Potter and co. as they took their classes at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Their classes were many, their obstacles unnumbered, and their textbook list endless. This time around we’re hurled into the past to follow the tale of a man who wrote one of those textbooks; Newt Scamander, writer of the magical bestiary: Fantastic beasts and Where To Find Them. So is this the *textbook* definition of movie magic? Or does this film need to go back to school? I solemnly swear I am up to no good, now let’s take a look!
You know what they say; ‘these hipster kids are ruining this neighbourhood’
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (hereby known as Fantastic Beasts because Accio shorter movie title amiright?) is directed by David Yates (Deathly Hallows pt 1+2) and is written by our lady who art in magic – J.K. Rowling. It stars Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, Les Mis), Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs), Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell’s glorious hair. Oh, and Colin Farrell. Our story follows Newt Scamander, a British wizard who has travelled to New York with a case full of monsters. Sound cool yet? It gets better. When magical beasties escape his case, Newt is thrown headlong into a chase across the city toward a deeper danger that is lurking in the magical community of New York. Fantastic Beasts manages to feel both different and familiar, which anyone will tell you is the key to success in any spinoff of a franchise. David Yates brings the same *magic* touch to this film as he did with the last four Harry Potter films, which brings a world of familiarity to fans of the series. This won’t alienate newcomers though, as Fantastic Beasts serves up an honestly bewitching film all on its own. Watching this film I felt like I was thrown backwards into my 7 year old self again. This film is just as enchanting as the first Harry Potter film, and I believe the magic I felt back in 2001 has been recaptured here for a whole new generation of ‘Potter fans. For more information on childhood wonder, turn to page 394.
“Go on, Frank. We both know only YOU can make America great again.”
Unlike Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts is not led by a young man finding his way in the world. Instead we follow a strange man who is self-professed as ‘annoying’ to most people, but whom has a true charm and earthy goodness. I personally LOVE the idea of seeing little Newt Scamander cosplayers, because children are embracing a totally new hero whom is really just a glorified magical birdwatcher. Seriously, he’s writing a book on all the cool stuff he sees. He’s Bill Oddie in a blue coat with a wand. I for one love Bill Oddie, and in a blue coat with a wand? That’s Oddie-ly satisfying.
Newt is a lover, not a fighter. While he can handle himself, Newt is more astute and cunning; using unconventional tactics to do what Harry or Hermione would do with a ‘swish-and-flick’. The differences between our two ‘Potterverse’ leads is made very clear very quickly, a great start to what is sure to be a great series of films.
The gang are pulled up by the fashion police for crimes against turn of the century colour-clash *finger snaps*
Accompanying Newt is a muggle (sorry, No-Maj) named Jacob Kowalski (Fogler). I adored Jacob, finding his ‘Sam’ to Newt’s ‘Frodo’ worked splendidly. There’s something to be said for an ‘everyman’ character done right in a fantastical setting. The ladies of Fantastic Beasts aren’t to be overlooked as we have Tina (Waterston) the tenacious demoted Auror (I like to call them ‘magic-cops’) and Queenie, Tina’s sister. Queenie is wickedly charming with interesting quirks that will surely cast a spell on viewers. Tina on the other hand can at times be a little tiresome through her tenacity. This is a bit of a nit-pick however, and overall Tina is a solid character that while potentially tedious, is generally likeable. Of course I have to close this with the effortlessly watchable…hair of Colin Farrell. Okay, his bewitching hair aside, Farrell is great in his role as ‘Graves’; the chief of security in the U.S Ministry of Magic. As the top-dog Auror, Graves is both intimidating and calculating as he appears intermittently throughout the film. Hats off to the costume designer(s) of this film as well, I now officially want a bajillion magical coats.
A rare photo of Colin Farrell’s hair posing for Men’s Fitness magazine. Feat. Colin Farrell.
A common theme in the Harry Potter franchise is the interlacing of spectacle with actual meaning. The original series of Potter films served as both a fantasy saga and a dialogue for growing children to explore adolescence. From puberty to changing social circles, to fighting a giant snake, Harry Potter helped all of us kids better understand all of these things that we were/would soon be dealing with as we matured. I sure don’t know how I would’ve fought off that giant snake without Harry’s help. Thanks, Harry Potter. In much the same way, Fantastic Beasts deals with the themes of repression, societal restrictions and cultural differences. This is masterfully handled by both Yates in directing and Rowling in writing; as we see a magical 1920’s America that serves up the fantasy, but doesn’t forget the bass-ackwards (self-censoring there) logic of the era. Newt himself comments on the US’s skew-wiff views on certain groups of people (magic and no-maj) intermixing, and this is a cleverly disguised bit of social commentary on what is (as we’ve seen recently) something that is not just in America’s past. Another scene that stood out for me was a mention of execution as a form of punishment in the US magic world, something that is paralleled nicely by incarceration in the British section of magical society. There is even imagery of a white room, a water-covered floor and a single ‘ol sparky’ chair to back that up. Coincidence? By Merlin’s beard, I think not.
After not receiving a callback for ‘The Basilisk’, Steve the Occamy reflected on his talents.
Lastly I couldn’t in all good conscience write a review for this film without mentioning the FANTASTIC BEASTS. Not where to find them though, I’ve been sworn to secrecy on that. When we first saw Buckbeak in Prizoner of Azkaban we immediately traded our ponies in for Hippogriffs. Now I wager those Hippogriffs will be traded in for some of the new magical creatures of this film. We knew we’d love the Niffler (lil’ cute echidna thingy from the trailer that made your heart happy), but we didn’t know just how much. This little thing is adorable (though mischievous) and is only matched in ‘naww’ factor by a leafy little Bowtruckle (think stick insect Groot). These are but a small portion of the plethora of beasts you’ll see in this film, all as bizarre and endearing as the last. The beasts here are really quite stunning, with no double ups of previous Potterverse creatures to be seen. Who needs another Aragog? I hate spiders. Bloody spiders. Why can’t we follow the butterflies?
All in all, Fantastic Beasts is a solid film with some serious charm and a flair for spectacle that recaptures the magic of J.K. Rowling’s world all over again. Someone must have Obliviate-d the memories of some critics out there who are giving this film a hard time, but don’t let that give your fandom Petrificus Totalus. This is a good movie, which at times reaches being a great movie, if only missing the bar by some minor pacing issues in the first third of the film. A ‘fantastic’ high-fantasy romp and a welcomed return home to a beloved world for any fellow Potter fan. Now, I’m off to don my house colours (Hufflepuff, of course) and see this a second time. I hope to see you there, unless you’re a foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach like Malfoy.
Until next time, Mischief managed!
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is at cinemas NOW! So hurry out and see it!
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SUMMARY: A spellbinding return to the wizarding world for fans and newcomers alike! Plenty of movie magic to be had here; between charming characters and *fantastic* beasts there is something for everyone to enjoy in this enchanting new film. A good time for the family, and a promise of even better things to come in this new installment in the Harry Potter universe. Two thumbs up, and you can believe that: I must not tell lies.