Five years after the final Harry Potter film was produced, and almost a decade since the publication of The Deathly Hallows, Warner Bros has released Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and announced plans for four more sequels.
Set in roaring Twenties New York, this is the story of wizard zoologist Newt Scamander, who accidentally sets several magical creatures loose in the city. Attempting to recover the creatures with help from a no-Maj (the American term for Muggle) baker and two witch sisters, Newt learns of another Dark threat facing New York and is forced to fight against it.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is that it has the chance to explore a new world of magic in America, free from the constraints of a book adaptation. Rather than a mere attempt to capitalise on the huge success of the original Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts is firmly concentrating on its own set of characters, locations and storylines (though with the occasional reference to Hogwarts or Dumbledore). The jazzy 1920s vibe is wonderfully evoked by goblin gangsters in an enchanted speakeasy and a glittering society dinner, with well-executed special effects bringing the sets to life.
Eddie Redmayne is cast perfectly as the loveably awkward Newt, bringing a little British charm to the Americana. The chemistry between him, Jacob the baker (Dan Fogler) and the Goldstein sisters (played brilliantly by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol) is funny and convincing – in fact, not dissimilar to that of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
Another gem is Ezra Miller as Credence, the disturbed adopted son of the anti-magic Barebone family, which belongs to an organisation known as the New Salem Philanthropic Society (there are a few more subtle references to The Crucible throughout the film). Credence’s exploitation at the hands of both his family and a Macusa official – the magical stateside government – is one of the shadier sides of the film. David Yates, director of the final four Potter films, manages to bring the same balance of darkness and humour to Fantastic Beasts, where we meet the obscurus creature, a dangerously uncontrollable dark force which feeds on psychologically suppressed magic.
Counteracting this are many humorous moments, largely courtesy of Newt and his creatures. The erumpent mating dance, aptly demonstrated by Redmayne to Jimmy Fallon, activities of the badger-like scavenger Niffler, and Jacob’s comical reactions to the extraordinary world of magic make the film good fun as well as a good story.
Fantastic Beasts is an excellent family movie, bringing the old Potter charm back to the screen with bold storylines and an even bolder budget. With the next instalment set to appear in 2018, it seems like another magic moment for JK Rowling and Warner Bros.
Words by Annabelle Fuller