Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Review

by Tapasya Singh (17S03C) and Kaushik Rangaraj (17S06P)

[Spoiler Warning]

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Starting in a silent, dramatic fashion, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens with a scene featuring a group of wizards about to face an unknown enemy – and quickly being defeated. Reminiscent of Voldemort’s actions in the Harry Potter movies, this scene transitions into newspaper headlines warning about the rise of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, as well as magical beast attacks and a growing anti-wizard sentiment in the United States. This sets the tone for the entire movie, which, like every other movie set in the Harry Potter universe, successfully ties in darker undertones with a more lighthearted and enjoyable screenplay.

The movie is set in 1926 New York, and follows magic zoologist Newt Scamander as he attempts to retrieve lost magical creatures that escaped from his magically enlarged trunk. He soon joins forces with a muggle – or rather no-maj, as they are called in America – and two witches, one of whom is an ex-Auror for the Magical Congress of the United States of America, MACUSA. Not only do they face trouble from a MACUSA investigator who seems to think that Newt’s lost beasts are the cause of all the havoc in New York, but they also have to deal with the much larger implications of a dark wizard trying to take over, claiming superiority of wizards over all other species.

If the film feels familiar, then, well, it is for good reason – J.K. Rowling has taken credit as the sole screenwriter, while other familiar faces from the Harry Potter movies have also returned, such as director David Yates and producer Steve Kloves. The plot bears strong traces of Rowling’s penmanship, with seemingly insignificant subplots tieing up to form a grand story at the end, as is her wont. It certainly served as a splash back into the past, with the delightful animation in particular evoking nostalgia like nothing else. While the disappointment of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child not quite living up to expectations made many apprehensive about this movie, they can rest assured that this foray back into the Harry Potter universe has not only met, but rather, exceeded expectations.

The success of this movie – apart from the suspenseful screenplay, charming enchantments and tight pacing – might lie in the fact that it is the one movie set in this universe that is not an adaptation of a book. While the script was built on the thin foundation of a bestiary of the same name that served as a textbook for Hogwarts students, the content is almost entirely new. This allows even the most avid Harry Potter fan to watch the movie with no preconceived notions of how the film should be, or expectations of scenes that should be there. For once, fans could experience the excitement of watching entirely new Harry Potter content with no knowledge of what was to come, which certainly added to the enjoyment.

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While no movie is without its fault, Fantastic Beasts has certainly some very close. The movie had a lot of ground to cover in 133 minutes, and there were some plotlines that were rushed through without being completely explained, as well as characters that will hopefully be fleshed out in further movies.

Despite any flaws, however, it cannot be denied that the movie is, in essence, an intensely detailed and satisfying period fantasy. Eddie Redmayne, Academy Award Winner and Nominee, delivers a splendid performance as Newt Scamander, an adorable but klutzy character. Other actors add in their charm as well, with Fogler impressing as a friendly No-maj aspiring baker, Waterston as a hyperactive “Statute of Secrecy” enforcer, Sudol as her charming Legilimens sister, Morton as the demonically prim leader of the Second Salemers, Miller as the shy and timid abused son of Mary Barebone and last but not least, Farrell as the mysterious but highly skilled and highly ranked Auror.  

The film also serves as a visual treat for starving Harry Potter fans, with the amazing CGI that brought magical creatures to life on screen being used to its fullest here. Some highlights were the Niffler that keeps escaping every chance it gets, the amazingly reticent Bowtruckle that hides in Newt’s jacket for most of the film, and the Erumpent, which manages to trample through New York before settling in the Central Park zoo.

Fantastic Beasts balances perfectly between being similar enough to Harry Potter to catch our attention, and yet different enough to hold that attention for longer than just the runtime of the film. This enchanting twist on jazz-era America has certainly breathed new life into the franchise, and the authors of this article are most certainly looking forward to where the next installment is going to take us.

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