Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the newest film set in the Harry Potter universe. However it has nothing to do with the character Harry Potter himself. The events in this movie happened long before he was born. And if there is one thing this movie proves, it is that J. K. Rowling will never let the wizarding world die.
The movie follows Newt Scamander. He is a writer and a Ministry of Magic employee who mostly keeps to himself. He travels to New York on business of his own, but brings a whole hoard of magical beasts along with him. A few escape and start creating all kinds of havoc in the city. As Newt desperately tries to get them back, a larger problem arises, threatening the entire city and the secrecy of all magicals.
The protagonist isn’t exactly likable for the first half hour of the movie. He is awkward and doesn’t speak much. I know that’s kind of the point. He is an introvert who prefers the company of the magical animals, but that fact makes the first part of the movie a little dull. I was not really sure who or what to focus on. But Newt’s real character establishing scene totally invested me in him and his quest.
The special effects are really good. It isn’t quite on the level of the Harry Potter movies, certainly not in terms of quantity. However the quality is great. There isn’t much spell slinging in the movie, so most of the budget goes to the CGI of the magical beasts. The creatures are very animated, almost to a cartoon-like level, but it works within the universe. All the actors take their roles very seriously too, so in addition to believing the beasts are there, I believe that the actors see them and interact with them too.
At first the plot is all over the place. Newt is looking for his creatures, there is strange magical destruction all around the city, there are a bunch of muggles (non-magicals) spreading around “witchcraft is real!” pamphlets, there is a politician running for president, and Colin Farrell is acting creepy. I didn’t see how all of the threads would tie together, yet it didn’t bother me. Rest assured that it all comes together in the end.
The best part of the movie is Dan Fogel’s performance. In fact, he plays a muggle. He is mostly there for comic relief, but he is a real character with goals and loads of personality. It is a little surprising, considering muggles never play a huge role in these movies. I find him to be a more interesting character than Newt and all the other wizards and witches in the movie.
A short forewarning for any Harry Potter fans: This movie is not the next Harry Potter nor is it trying to be. I did not go in expecting that and I found it extremely enjoyable. The movie has its own self-contained plot and has very little to do with any of the established history in the main series. It feels very different from the main series movies too but I don’t think that is a bad thing. It is interesting to see the universe open up a bit and how the states handle magical incidents… Even if it was about sixty years before the main storyline.
All that being said, I highly recommend the movie to any Harry Potter fan. I’d also suggest a look even if you haven’t watched any of the series. You need almost no knowledge of the series to get this installment. I’ve also kept quiet about many parts of the plot. In classic J. K. Rowling fashion, there are plenty of twists strewn about, and I have no desire to ruin any of it.