FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM is a fantasy adventure movie which has generated significant buzz. As anyone with an internet connection will know, it’s written by JK Rowling, and marks a return to the HARRY POTTER-verse which is so loved by many.
Set in 1920s, post-war America, FANTASTIC BEASTS introduces a new protagonist in the shape of Newt Scamander (played by Eddy Redmayne). He takes trip to New York, ostensibly to visit a rare animal dealer (the “beasts” of the title) but with another, secret motive. He is a wizard, of course, and brings with him a case that acts as a magic portal. One of his beasts escapes from said case, and this leads to a chase across NY to find it. However, darker forces are at work in this era. A war is brewing between the “no-majs” (the no-magics – the American equivalent of “muggles”) and wizards, and a rogue magic-user is on the loose. Scamander soon finds himself breaking the rules of the MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America), and along with a disgraced magical investigator and a no-maj he is soon swept into dealing with a much greater threat…
While FANTASTIC BEASTS is set in the HARRY POTTER universe, it doesn’t require much in the way of knowledge of the POTTER series in order to enjoy it. I’m not a huge POTTER fan – I’ve never read the books, and I’ve only a passing knowledge of the wider story – but BEASTS does a commendable job of making the universe accessible. While it does rely on the physics and lore of POTTER, BEASTS makes good inroads at establishing itself as a separate entity. I also felt that the decision to set the movie in 1920s America was a wise one. The distance in time and space helps to establish a “fresh” (or at least different) look for the film, as well as giving the room to create a new cast. Meanwhile, Newt Scamander presents a different side of the wizarding community – being a sort of monster conservationist. But there are also plenty of little nods to the original series that I recognised, and I’m sure that for real fans there were even more.
The plot is fairly typical, with multiple strands that culminate in the film’s showdown. However, the shadow of a far larger threat also looms over the 1920s magic community. This aspect did feel a little bolted on to me, and it could’ve been excised in order to make BEASTS a standalone adventure. As it is, the film is clearly a stepping-stone to a further franchise. This is no bad thing – I’m sure there’s much more to see in the wider BEASTS universe – but the inclusion of this over-reaching plot does extend the film’s runtime. This is probably my biggest criticism of the movie. Overall, the 133 minute theatrical cut feels unnecessarily long. For younger views, this is a big time commitment: in the UK, the film is a 12A certificate, meaning that many younger children will be watching it. By the two hour mark, the audience was becoming agitated. Maybe for more committed POTTER fans this won’t be a problem.
So BEASTS is good fun, and a generally light-hearted wizarding adventure. It does have the feel of a prologue of sorts, and many will take issue with the film’s length. However, the special effects and expansion of the POTTER mythology will no doubt make this film a big hit with fans of the original books and movies.