Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 2016.
Directed by David Yates.
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Carmen Ejogo, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight, Ronan Raftery, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Jenn Murray, Zoe Kravitz and Johnny Depp.
The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
It’s time to answer the million-dollar question that is on everyone’s mind; what are these fantastic beasts and just what are they doing casually prowling around New York City!? Well, the reason being is that Newt Scamander (portrayed with the socially awkward personality you would expect from most characters played by Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard rounding up fantastical beasts to care for in his suitcase, which is basically like the TARDIS from Doctor Who. As a matter of fact, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them might as well be a crossover between Pokémon Go and Doctor Who.
Don’t ask me how to explain how there are a slew of large, open area locations featuring different habitats to suit beasts fitting on their own living preferences; my only answer would be because wizards and magic and Harry Potter and shit. However, it’s actually really fascinating, and the 5 minute sequence during the first act where Newt shows around his new companion Jacob (see, just another way this is a variation of Doctor Who!) the different geographies and all of the misunderstood, loving peaceful monsters that roam the lands is one of the most magical and charming moments of the journey.
It’s not all bright colors, sunshine and rainbows though, as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (written by J.K. Rowling in her screenwriting debut adapting her own book, and directed by David Yates who helmed the last few installments of the Harry Potter saga) have actually created something much darker in tone than expected. Without going into too much detail, this movie dives into such traumatic topics such as child abuse, loss, and some fairly depressing tidbits related to amnesia. It’s a decision that makes sense though, as most of the children who grew up reading and watching Harry Potter are now young adults, and will probably be easier to cater to with something far less child friendly. Keep in mind, the movie still does fall under the label of family-friendly, but I still advise taking children not too young.
And speaking of J.K. Rowling, her knack for world-building and drawing us into a world full of magic and mythical beings is still on-point and exceptional. One of the biggest additions to the wizarding world is the Magical Congress of the United States of America, who essentially handle the process of keeping magic out of the limelight from ordinary citizens, or as they are referred to, a No-Maj. It is also one of the more developed aspects of the movie (which is good because it’s unlikely that we will have seen the last of them by the end of this film), featuring its own humongous complex, colorful building filled with multiple floors and levels for different threats. Colin Farrell unfortunately looks bored and disinterested in his high-ranking character of the Congress, but honestly you would too if you knew the twist regarding him.
The problems with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them largely stem from the direction of David Yates (which is surprising considering he did a bang up job concluding that Harry Potter saga), who has no idea how to properly pace the experience. The first 40 minutes of this movie feel like an extended prologue that should have been heavily condensed into 15 minutes. We don’t need multiple scenes of Newt trying to capture the same insignificant small beast, and even the scenes that are interesting feel too stretched out. It takes forever for the actual plot to become set in motion. So much of that wasted time could have went to further developing more of the supporting characters, such as Credence (Ezra Miller), a mysterious teenage boy with a sizable role to play.
What does work though is the contrast of vibrant, colorful creatures standing out in the foreground of the 1920s New York that is mostly devoid of color and filled was a white and gray palette. Naturally, this does make some of the scenes without anything magical going on look rather uneventful visually, but if anything the unstable pacing does keep things going swiftly enough to keep the action coming, showing off a number of crowd-pleasing special effects and CGI. Sure, the beasts look incredibly fake and off-putting next to real life characters, but this is mitigated by the creative designs of the monsters. No, they aren’t revolutionary creature designs, but they are fun to look at nevertheless.
With all that said, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them simply feels like two hours of exposition and visual effects that are meant to draw us in to the new locations and details of the journey. Similar to how no one’s favorite Harry Potter is the first movie, I suspect that will be the same with this saga; it’s an entertaining distraction where the real story is just beginning. For now, I’m on-board
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★