Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Release Date: November 18, 2016
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
The first spinoff movie from Harry Potter’s Wizarding World introduces mazizooligist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), author of the eponomynous textbook used at Hogwarts. Set in the 1920s, the British Scamander arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures. His ultimate purpose in being there is revealed slowly of the film, but first, hijinks! Newt accidentally swaps suitcases with a non magical person, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and several creatures escape. As Newt and Jacob look for the missing animals, they draw the attention of an American witch, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), who has recently lost her position as auror. More hijinks ensue and Tina is forced to bring Newt and Jacob to her apartment and introduce them to her charming sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who has the ability to read minds.
The film feels at first a comedy of errors and takes time to delight in introducing aspects of the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts and Great Britain, with a lot of fun visual effects. But there’s more going on here as the story unfolds. First, there’s the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a 20th century heir to the Salem witch hysteria, who are openly promoting that wizads and witches are real (true, in the story) and need to be defeated. Second, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is on the loose and killing magical and non-magical people alike.
I enjoy the culture clashes between the British and American wizards. Americans very practically call non-magical people “No-Maj” instead of “Muggles,” which sounds as silly as calling a truck a lorry, when you think of it. Instead of a Ministry of Magic, the USA’s wizarding government is the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), where Tina works. And even though only European schools participated in the Triwizarding tournament, there is an American school of witchcraft and wizardry as well, called Ilvermorny. And I’ve learned from Wikipedia that Ilvermorny is in Massachusetts, on the peak of Mt. Greylock, so wizards also send their children to New England for their education.
Newt Scamander is very good with magical creatures, but is a bit awkward around people. Redmayne plays his introversion well, and I enjoy seeing another quiet lead character in an action-fantasy film to go along with Rogue One. Despite being the main character, Newt is more of the straight man to the quirkier characters of Jacob, Tina, and Queenie. The leading quartet have a lot of chemistry and I enjoy seeing them playing of one another. They carry the film that at times is a bit thin on plot.