Seventy five years before Harry entered Hogwarts, far far away, in a Prohibition-era New York, there was a secret community of witches and wizards and wands that wove spells. Who knew? And into this world, weaving his way between the New York hustle and bustle of the muggles, (or no-majs as the Americans called them back then) and the subterranean secret community of wizards, came writer/explorer Newt Scamander. He arrived carrying a small, weathered grip containing a menagerie of wonderfully fantastic beasts. But, as fate, or maybe some darker power, would have it, bags get switched, accidents happen and before you can say Pandora, the beasts and their magic burst unto a grey, unsuspecting Manhattan.
Shazam! Their escape is our much needed escapism.
J.K.Rowling and veteran Potter director David Yates have, in “Fantastic Beasts and Where You Can Find Them”, unleashed a fantastical movie in this helter-skelter run up to Christmas. It’s clever, laugh out loud funny, stunningly well made (the best CGI since “Dr. Strange”) and, well, quite magical.
Eddie Redmayne is Newt, the slightly gauche, always amazed, very English Brit. And it’s up to him, with the help of a fellow wizard, Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Kowalsky (Dan Fogler) an understandably gob-smacked muggle, to recapture his escaped menagerie. But escaped beasts are the least of his problems: he must battle an evil one, Graves (Colin Farrell) whose dastardliness will no doubt bloom in the coming sequels (four of them); and he must gird himself for future battles with the Voldemort of this world, one Grindelwald.
The plot twists and turns and seems to wander aimlessly from time to time. But Redmayne’s Newt is compelling watching. His character is part naughty schoolboy, part bumbling/ charming Hugh Grant, part Andy Serkis (his attempt to lure one of his beasts into the bag with a gangly beast dance is priceless) and part Harry Potter. A weaker actor would have disappeared in the mayhem. But Redmayne refuses to be upstaged by all the wiz-bangery of Yate’s exploding houses, thieving platypuses, swirling black clouds and sizzling magic wands; and, as if by sheer magnetism, he always commands your attention.
Almost stealing the limelight from him is Dan Fogler, as a portly baker who only wanted to get a small bank loan and who finds himself the unwitting and incredulous allay to all this wizardry. We experience much of the story through his eyes, as he/we are introduced to this new world where a grip is just a portal to a hidden world and where wizards can morph from one person to another.
In this introductory salvo to the fantastical beasts’ world, Yates and Rowling scatter clues and characters throughout the story (cameos by Jon Voight, Gemma Chan and Johnny Depp) in what seems at times to be slightly irrelevant story asides, and which no doubt will bear fruit in later ‘chapters’.
Seasoned Potter production designer Stuart Craig and art director James Hambidge (who created the look for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) have created an immersive world which looks almost real…as though suggesting that the real world, the dull, everyday world is out there.
Here, there’s only magic
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. Dir: David Yates. Writer: J.K.Rowling. With Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell. Cinematographer: Philippe Rousselot (“The Nice Guys”, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”) Production Designers: Stuart Craig (“The Legend of Tarzan” all the Harry Potter’s) and James Hambidge (“The Legend of Tarzan” “The Dark Knight Rises”). Composer: James Howard (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” “Concussion” “The Hunger Games series”)