The Harry Potter series is the defining fantasy story of my generation. While many of us are fans of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC, all of those are fantasy stories that have been passed on from previous generations. Harry Potter is ours and the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–written by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and directed by veteran HP director David Yates–is the first true attempt at expanding the world through a prequel and handing it off to a new generation.
As we’ve seen in those other franchises, however, that approach doesn’t have the greatest track record. Coupled with the fact that this movie’s title is taken from one of Harry Potter’s textbooks, I will fully admit that I had almost no interest in watching it. It seemed like it was just going to explore the wizarding with slight nods, but no meaningful connection, to the world we fell in love with.
Well, I can’t think of a time I’ve been so happy to be so wrong.
The movie follows Newt Scamander, the author of the aforementioned textbook, as he arrives in America as part of his quest to seek out, observe and document the magical beasts that inhabit the world. Unfortunately, through a series of mishaps, some of those beasts escape to wreak havoc on New York. Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that the escaped creatures the magical world at a time when secrecy is a top priority for security reasons.
As fun of an adventure as that is on the surface, this story has a lot of the same heart that made us so emotionally invested in Harry Potter’s journey and it could have fallen flat if the main cast weren’t fantastic. Eddie Redmayne as Newt, Katherine Waterston as Tina, Dan Fogler as Jacob and Alison Sudol as Queenie all have their own type of awkward charm mixed with a level of kindness; all this, despite an obvious underlying pain that gives off an air of likability that’s missing from many protagonists in movies today. Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller (Bullseye and Flash?) also deliver solid performances, but the protagonists are the stars of this movie.
As great as all that is, much of the enjoyment I had with this movie came from having a deep knowledge of the Potterverse. Much of the set-up going forward may be lost on those with only a slight familiarity with it; but it should still be a mostly enjoyable experience nonetheless.
As the first of an announced five movies set in Harry Potter’s wizarding world without Harry Potter in it, my biggest fear was that Fantastic Beasts could have felt like a cheap attempt to cash in on a popular franchise; yet, it ultimately proved me wrong and showed that there are plenty of other interesting stories to tell within this universe that don’t directly tie to Harry Potter himself. Although we’ll have to wait and see whether they successfully tell those stories in sequels to Fantastic Beasts, one things for sure: those movies have a fantastic foundation in this one. 4.25/5 Greedy Nifflers.