FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
written by J.K. Rowling
directed by David Yates
Arthur A. Levine Books / 304 pages / (November 18, 2016)
What do you want to know about FANTASTIC BEASTS? Regardless of what I say, Dumbledore’s Army will be out in force, queueing for tickets, popcorn, and sodas. At last night’s first showings there was a handful of PotterHeads in wizard robes and, judging by their reactions, they’ll be going many, many more times, if not every showing. But, what about those who aren’t ardent fans or are on the fence about checking it out? Let me tell you.
It is hard to imagine a demographic that would’t enjoy this film. Fast-paced, thrilling, funny, eye popping, mesmerising — and that doesn’t even address the amazing cast.
Eddie Redmayne, Oscar winner and A-Lister, sounded like an odd fit for the role and for the franchise. Trying to imagine Stephen Hawking or Einmar Wegener with a wand and a suitcase full of beasts? (Balem Abrasax? Not such a stretch there…) From his first appearance on the screen though, Redmayne hits the ground running as Newt and any past roles *poof*! There is a new wizard and nothing of Redmayne remains. Hello, Newt Scamander.
Wizarding in 1920’s New York is a very different atmosphere from the touchstone of Hogwart’s seventy years in the future. Witches and wizards have gone to ground and the most important duty is to remain hidden. They don’t exist as far as the no-majs know and the Ministry will go to great ends to maintain the status quo. A wizard from another country, with a suitcase full of mischevous, destructive beasts is the last thing they want or will tolerate. Newt is trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “G” and that stands for go back where you came from.
But Scamander is not just the magizoologist who has traveled the world documenting the beasts. He has become their admirer and protector, determined to make the wizarding world see their value and save the endangered from extinction. Newt is shy and polite to a fault and could have been a bungling character; Rowling and Redmayne save him from that fate. Yes, he approaches the world with eyes averted just as he meets his beasts, but he misses nothing and can work his magic with the best of them. It just that this brilliant , optimistic scientist’s heart has infinite room for love and he wears it on his sleeve. The Oscar winner has nailed the character and made it uniquely his own, an endearing wizard we will wait impatiently to see again.
Too bad no one told Newt’s beasts that they should stay put. Okay, he told them a million times, but they obviously didn’t listen. But, what a treat for us that they escape, because there are a source of endless amusement and the occasional shock. Anything Rowling can envision, stunning special effects can deliver. They aren’t just a plot device; 3-D was made for these beasts — colours, textures, and personality coming right at you at light speed. See it in IMAX 3-D! You’ll want to get the full effect of these naughty critters.
While hunting down his “pets” Newt picks up a crew to help him on his quest. Of course, he picks up even more enemies, so it will be a race to see who will reach the beasts first. Dan Fogler’s no-maj Jacob is a constant source of gobsmacked amazement and becomes the eyes with which the viewer sees this breathtaking magical world, even as he faces the constant threat of Obliviation. Alison Sudol delights with her portrayal of the both bombshell and softhearted Legilimen, without going over the top. Katherine Waterston’s Tina is the flip-side of her adorable sister, forced to be the serious one and the skeptic. Oh, and like a Golden Snitch, I want a Bowtrunkle of my very own.
Collin Farrell makes for one scary investigator for the Ministry. The film doesn’t even try to mask his harmful intent, instead giving us reason to expect something dangerous from him at the start. Graves is the harbinger of a new direction for the Wizarding World, turning toward a darker landscape, according to Rowling. In fact, though parents will bring their little children to see the film, it is slanted less toward the younger audience and more towards an older crowd and, definitely, accessible for adult viewers. There are moments in Fantastic Beasts when that is apparent, even some more mature themes and language. The message of tolerance and acceptance may go over the heads of a younger DA, but its relevance at this time is a welcome reminder to those who catch it in every moment of the film.
After all this what is my assessment of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them? It is as fantastic as promised. The boundlessly creative mind of Rowling brings us into another world we wish we could join. The director and the special effects artists deliver a menagerie that knocks you back into your seat while the plot keeps you on the edge of it. It is eye-candy made for gorging on and dig into again and again. Redmayne has created a wizard to love and feel protective of and unlike any we’ve seen before. The setting pulls us firmly from the distant future of Harry Potter and deposits us in a world of trolleys, Model Ts, and the melting pot this side of Ellis Island.
And what of those Beasts? “Fantastic” is too tame a world for what jumps out of the screen at you. Breathtaking, really. And I can’t wait to see what else is in that magic suitcase. I want to go in there, but I’ll consider myself fortunate to be able to visit Newt and his friends — animal and human — on the screen again. Soon.