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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

J.K. Rowling makes her debut as a film screenwriter in this year’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Directed by David Yates (who also worked on the final four of the original Harry Potter franchise), Eddie Redmayne plays magizoologist Newt Scamander as he and a bag full of magical creatures touch down in New York City in 1926.  Newt comes across a muggle, Jacob (Dan Fogler), and former Auror, Tina (Katherine Waterson) as his bag of tricks spills loose and reigns havoc on the people of the city.

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Like many, I remember buying JK Rowling’s two short one of books for comic relief in 2001.  A Harry Potter nut, I really enjoyed the extra insight in to that world.  As much of a fan as I am of the books, I never really fell in love with the films.  The series found its way a bit come the much darker Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), but I always struggled to accept even the smallest changes from the books I had grown up with, and Daniel Radcliffe always seemed to irritate.  My heart sank a bit when I heard that they were looking to start a spin off franchise, and despite having really enjoyed this first outing, even now I’m struggling to get excited at the prospect of another FOUR films.  I imagine I’m in the minority though.

What makes Fantastic Beasts such a good family adventure that everything going on revolves around enthralling, and fully fledged characters.  The acting is excellent, and you’re left with a bunch of people you’re desperate to go on an adventure with.  Eddie Redmayne’s Newt was quirky and good fun, but played second fiddle a bit to his support cast (whether that be his wizarding friends or the CGI beasts).  Redmayne comes across as someone that can take himself too seriously, but I thought it was clear he was having a lot of fun here.  The film’s star is Katherine Waterson as Tina, and she has this incredible quality of drawing your attention whenever she is on screen without even doing much.  I’m looking forward to what Ridley Scott has in store for her in Alien: Covenant when that is released next year!  Comedian, Dan Fogler plays the chubby, funny sidekick role without ever being annoying, and actually ended up having a story with the most emotional weight.  A muggle who comes across the wizarding world, his primary role is to ask the questions the audience need answers to but this exposition never feel obtrusive to the story.  Alison Sudol plays Tina’s sister, Queenie, and looks like she was plucked right from the era the film is set in.  Colin Farrell, and Ezra Miller play the ‘we have dodgy haircuts, so are probably dodgy characters’ card, and are both creepy enough if a little wasted.  I’ve always been a fan of Farrell when he’s playing comedic or sinister characters, but I felt him and Miller were a bit one dimensional with how they went about this here.

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I really loved what felt like an authentic 1920s New York setting, and thought that offered an original spin on the Rowling world we know so well.  Quirks such as the fact Americans called non magical people, “No-maj” (or, no-magic) instead of the British term, Muggles, kept this perspective feeling fresh.  The special effects are superb, and actually work particularly well the smaller scale they are (the grand, effects-heavy finale the film is determined to force in lost my interest a bit).  It’s when Newt uses his wand to rebuilding a destroyed room, or do up his bow tie when you ache to be a part of that world.  I hadn’t had that feeling since reading the books.  The ‘beasts’ and Newt’s capers in recapturing them are very entertaining.  I can’t help but think I would have been happy enough for a stand-alone, lighter film that was happy to concentrate on that aspect, much like its one-off source material.  I was less interested in the side stories – Jon Voight’s newspaper magnate, and Ezra Miller’s abusive mother slowed the film down and repeatedly put a downer on the fun thrill ride we were having with Newt and his real life game of Pokemon Go.  There were a lot of scenes to do with those side stories that felt unnecessary at the time, and even more so looking back now.  I imagine/hope they will have a part to play as the rest of the franchise unfolds, but it doesn’t do this episode any favours.

One of my gripes with the Philosopher’s Stone film may be a harsh one, but it’s full of exposition as they have to explain everything that is happening.  Although Fantastic Beasts does feel a little of a setup too, I’m glad they took the decision to assume it’s audience knew exactly what was going on, and were therefore willing to take a few leaps of faith.  Some shoe-horned characters and plot lines (as well as one cameo in particular towards the very end) taper the excitement I may have had for its sequels, but there’s no denying Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a great movie thrill ride.
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  1. Alison Sudol provides a little something for the dads too! Nice review


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