What would a film be titled featuring creatures called Thunderbird, Swooping Evil, Niffler, Erumpent, Demiguise and Bowtruckle?
Why, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” of course! The aforementioned creatures are featured in the fantasy film considered a spin-off/prequel to the “Harry Potter” film series. Thus, the film is filled with magic wands and plenty of special effects. The film is set in 1926, and stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, an eccentric wizard and magizoolgist who works for the Ministry of Magic. He is also the author of the textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Newt is on his way to Arizona to release a Thunderbird, when he stops briefly in New York City to pick up something for a friend. While in the city he encounters Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), a No-Maj, which is a non-magical human. Barebone leads a group called the New Salem Philanthropic Society, which is on a mission to condemn those who practice magic. While watching Barebone speak, a Niffler escapes from his magically-expanded suitcase and chaos ensues and Newt attempts to capture the creature, who has a love for all things shiny. While perusing the creature, Newt runs across a No-Maj named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who carries off the wizards suitcase by mistake.
The interaction between Newt and Jacob eventually leads to the duo running across another member of The Ministry of Magic, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who in turn attempts to have Newt arrested as an unregistered wizard. With the charges dismissed by The Magical Congress of the U.S., Newt and Jacob, along with Tina and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), are dealing with not only the society led by Barebone, but finding all the missing creatures that escaped from Newt’s suitcase, while dealing with the emergence of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), Mary Lou’s adopted son, as a budding wizard who is very troubled. All the aforementioned culminates in a massive showdown that threatens to expose the existence of the wizard world to humans. Never fear, however, as all ends well for our characters, except for one heartbreaking moment for Jacob. The film features extraordinary amounts of special effects, and at times it appeared as it the filmmakers were simply trying to show off by overwhelming viewers with too many effects at once. Hey, I’m all for the marvel of special effects in film, but sometimes it may be better to reign it in a bit. As for the cast, which also includes Colin Farrell as the Director of Security for the Magical Congress, they all fit perfectly in their respective roles.
The only concern I have is at times Redmayne’s performance was so understated and underplayed he seemed to disappear beneath the special effects swirling around him. Those nick picks aside, the film was a fun fantasy and a welcome return to the Harry Potter universe, even if the setting is decades before Harry enrolled in Hogwarts. The film was produced and written by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, and is inspired by her book of the same name. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a magical film that provides plenty of wand waiving moments that will leave you feeling nostalgic for Harry Potter.
(Rated PG-13) 3 1/2 wands (out of 4)