Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

It has been a while since the Harry Potter saga ended, and Warner Bros. is yet to find a franchise as globally successful and satisfying. The studio’s repeated attempts to create a Marvel-like cinematic universe for its DC Comics superheroes has been bumpy at best, so it’s hardly surprising that they went right back to JK Rowling to squeeze out some more magic from Potter’s universe.

I did not have much high hopes from the film after reading the eighth book of the Harry Potter series, which came out in July, 2016, though I cannot comment about the play. To me Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them came to me as a fresh breath of air, from the series I almost worshipped as a teenager. It evokes the same childlike awe and wonder that powered the Harry Potter films. This adventure, named after a classic Hogwarts textbook, is set in 1920s America, and while there’s no sign of Harry, Ron and Hermione, and no dazzling Quidditch matches to take one’s breath away, there is still a lot to enjoy here.

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, is a class of actor difficult to find, ready to jump into any role and ace it with grace. Newt’s, expelled from Hogwarts but favoured by Dumbeldore, sole motto is collecting a menagerie of enchanted creatures of every size, shape and personality. He arrives in New York, to return to home a Thunderbird which had been smuggled out of America. Soon after he arrives in New York, his suitcase comes into the possession of a down-on-his-luck baker, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who accidentally releases the critters into the city.

Newt, fearing that humans might cause some harm to his beasts, roams around New York, to recover them. It is through such an endeavour, he meets Tina (Katherine Waterston), who takes him to MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) located in the Woolworth building of New York.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them establishes the fact that the Magical society of America is quite different than that of England. For starters, muggles are called no-maj’s in America. In one scene, Tina’s sister Queenie’s (Alison Sudol) mimic accent, referring to Hogwarts as Hog-wash, gives an understanding of the perception of Hogwarts at Illvermony, the magical school of America.

Coinciding with Newt’s arrival, the city of New York is threatened by a strange force, going about the city, wreaking havoc and killing people. The magical community is in a danger of raging a war with the no-maj population, when Newt is arrested and sentenced to prison for life by the president of MACUSA.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is thrilling in portions, gorgeously mounted, and teeming with imagination. Rowling, who has the written the screenplay herself, creates a fully realized world of wizardry and wonder that still somehow succeeds in looking and feeling different from the Potter world. But, as endearing as Redmayne is in the role of the film’s accident-prone protagonist, he, or in fact any of the other characters in the film, can’t evoke the instant affection one develops for the kids in the Potter films. The villains too – chief among them Colin Farrell as the head of security at the American Ministry of Magic – are stock cinematic baddies.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first film in an intended five-part series. And unlike the Potter films, these are meat to be darker, and more suited for older viewers who can grasp the film’s themes of segregation and xenophobia.

Of the cast, Redmayne hits all the right notes between awkward and heroic, but it’s Fogler as wide-eyed No-Maj Kowalski, who practically steals the film. Despite a flabby middle portion that tends to drag, this is a charming film, one that I very much enjoyed.

I’m going with 4 out of 5 for David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Definitely, a franchise is born.

P.S. Look out for Johnny Depp, in a special role, all of us Harry Potter fans know about.