Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) – reviewed by George

In this Harry Potter prequel (it’s in the 1920’s, so no Harry) we meet Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), landing at the New York docks on his way to Arizona, as he nears completion of a voyage to collect magical beasts. He plans to locate some of the beasts in Arizona, far away from people. He quickly gets involved with a No-Maj (the American version of “Muggle”), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Jacob has just been turned down for a loan he needs to build his own bakery (he makes heavenly desserts) and finds himself bumping into Newt and releasing some of his beasts. Don’t be surprised by the difference in size between the case and the beasts – Newt has used a reduction-in-size spell. The two find themselves in trouble right away because the street speaker they are interrupting is Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), member of a group that tries to warn people that wizards and witches are real and dangerous. As if that weren’t bad enough, they quickly get in trouble with the wizarding community because some of them ARE dangerous, and Graves (Colin Farrell) has used magic in a very public setting to kill the son of New York Senator Shaw (Jon Voight), a member of Mary Lou’s society.
Then they meet the Goldstein sisters, Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), witches who join them in their adventures.
This is a good movie, but it suffers because there’s no way not to think about the Potter films while you’re watching, and that comparison is not favorable for “Beasts”. The best part of the movie for me was the growing romance between Queenie and Jacob.
The things about this film that stood out (again, for me) are the score by James Newton Howard, the script by J.K. Rowling, the direction by David Yates,, the production design by Stuart Craig, the visual effects supervised by Tim Burke and Christian Manz, and the cast, which also includes Carmen Ejogo as Serafina, Ron Perlman as the goblin Gnarlak, and Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, the dark wizard supposedly dead, and portrayed through most of the film by another cast member in disguise.
More Newt Scamander films are planned, and I hope to be able to see the next one without constantly comparing it to the truly fantastic Potter films.

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