Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

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Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)
 Dir. David Yates
 Writ. J.K. Rowling
 Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler
 Rated PG-13
 133 mins.
 Fantasy
 IMDB 7.9

I went to the movies 3 times in a span of 1 week, and I’ve only reviewed Arrival so I’ve got two new movies to review and one older one I watched on VOD to do tonight, so let’s get started with the first one alphabetically of the 3 movies I’m reviewing tonight!

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them takes us back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter fame for a 1920’s adventure with the man who wrote the Harry Potter kids’ school book Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). In this adventure, Newt Scamander arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures, and what should have been a normal journey to America ended up becoming something else entirely when a few of his creatures escaped his very first day there! After dragging a No-Maj (American word for Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) into the mix, Newt is confronted by a former-auror named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and, in turn, is dragged into the mix of the American Wizarding Government’s fight with a terrible monster that is wreaking havoc on the city and risking the exposure of wizards everywhere.

I’m going to go ahead and say that I was absolutely surprised when people immediately asked me on twitter after I saw the movie, “How did it stand up to Harry Potter?” because I never even considered ‘oh, another Harry Potter movie’. I genuinely went into this movie with no expectations other than an entirely original story that was only related because it was set in the same universe so the basics should be the same. I’m a Pottermore person, so I had read up on the new revelations about the wizarding community in America and that was really all I was thinking about. It never even occurred to me that people would view this as another Harry Potter movie, which I guess was foolishness on my part, but I genuinely think that this movie is more enjoyable if you DON’T go into it thinking ‘oh a Harry Potter prequel’ because it isn’t. This isn’t a Harry Potter story. This is a Newt Scamander story.

And what a story it was! Oh how I loved this movie. This was a fun movie. It was very inventive with the creatures and just so enjoyable. Newt Scamander was a character we knew very little about, and I found him to be utterly charming. I was excited for him because I’ve yet to see Eddie Redmayne in a bad part (note: I’ve literally seen him in 3 things before, so that’s a very limited sampling) and I was hoping he would make Newt into a lovable person, and he really was. I would say that Newt Scamander was basically what happens if you took Hagrid from Harry Potter and the Eleventh Doctor from Doctor Who and mixed them together. Newt Scamander is just a wizard who loves animals and wants to protect them. There’s this hint that the wizarding world wants to exterminate these creatures or at least get them away from the people, and he’s a man who just wants to protect them and help people understand them. It’s very apparent in so many places that he just has a very big heart and wants to save innocent creatures who are just living by their nature.

As lovable as Newt Scamander was, that does not hold a CANDLE to Jacob Kowalski. I cannot tell you how little I was prepared for how absolutely wonderful this man was. The way he had this childlike wonder at what others found terrifying was so amazing. He was just the sweetest man, to use Queenie’s description. I loved that he just accepted that “I’m a wizard, these are magical creatures, come with us!” and just went with it. He is introduced to us as a man who wants to provide joy to the world through his baking. He wants to put love into every pastry in a time when mass-production was considered the cure-all to everything. Even before we get to know him in the realm of magic, we are presented with this person who just wants to make people smile, and he does. He really, really does. Without spoilers, I actually shed a few tears over the events near the end of this movie first of sadness and then of joy regarding his character.

While I could go through and have words about every single character in this story, I’m going to try and shorten it with the rest of them, so! We had Tina Goldstein, the former-auror who we discover lost her job as an auror because she’s a human with a heart, basically. You see a theme here, I’m guessing. Her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), was one character that, at the onset, I thought ‘oh great, they have the sexy blonde girl’ but immediately we get a plot twist, and instead of the typical blonde bombshell, she is a very kindhearted character who is very intelligent since she’s a legimens (which, if you DO know Harry Potter, you know is a very difficult thing to become) and she has a very well-rounded personality. Other than these characters mentioned above, though, there are some places where there’s not enough of the characters to really get a read on them. The President of MACUSA, for example, I felt was very flat. I don’t know if that will be changed when we see more of her, or not, but she just seemed cold. Very unlikable. And Mr. Graves was very interesting right up until the reveal that I can’t say without spoiling, but let’s say I was really bummed that his motivation wasn’t more interesting than what the twist reveals.

The real star of this movie was the creatures! Oh how wonderful were they all? The personalities that they managed to give each and every creature was beautiful. The Niffler was such a fun little guy, and Frank the Thunderbird was lovely, and I think we can all agree that the weird sloth-like creature was very heartwarming. My favorite of all, though, was the shy little Bowtruckle! How ADORABLE was that little guy? And I absolutely loved how protective of him Newt was!

There were a few parts of this movie that were disappointing, but mostly that was related to the story with Mr. Graves (Colin Farrell) and the big twist reveal. I’ve seen some criticism of the newspaper guys plot and stuff, but I actually thought that all fit? I don’t know, I think it fit well, and I understood what the point of it was. But mostly, the Mr. Graves stuff was just a let-down. I thought he would have some good, interesting motivations related to Grindelwald, but I didn’t expect the way it turned out, and by doing what they did, it sort of ruins the entire way that the plot is driven.

But overall, this film moved me, and it made me feel very strongly about things, and I liked the story that these characters were in. I love that we see the dark side of the American wizarding world, because their anti-No-Maj legislation and the heartlessness of how far they’re willing to go to keep from having magic exposed is just jarring after being given such big-hearted characters that we’re following through this cold, dark setting. I really was kept guessing by the Second Salemers, and I kept going back and forth over what I thought was going to happen with them. It was just a very well done storyline and I highly enjoyed that part of the plot. I loved this movie, and I might go so far as to say I love it better than the Harry Potter films.

My Rating: 8/10

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About J. Chelsea Williford

Student at Middle Georgia State University, writer, pop culture lover.
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