***SPOILER FREE*** As a prequel to the Harry Potter franchise, this fantasy-adventure brings audiences back to the widely beloved wizarding world of author J.K. Rowling. This time instead of following ‘The Boy Who Lived’, we follow magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a researcher of magical creatures. A number of these little and not-so-little creatures happen to be travelling alongside Scamander in a magical briefcase and, due to an unfortunate mix-up, a few of them escape while he is in New York.
Fans of Rowling are going to love this one. Between her screenplay and David Yates’ direction (he directed the last four Harry Potter films and will reportedly direct the next four films of the 'Fantastic Beasts' franchise), audiences can be assured that this is in the hands of people who not only know this world like the back of their hands, but well and truly love it.
From the opening scene of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them', you are enthralled by the story and dazzled by the special effects. The music is fun and nostalgic, and it’s best seen in 3D IMAX because, aside from the opening montage in which some very fast camerawork cut with newspaper clippings and headlines create a dizzying, sickening effect (the first of 'The Hobbit' films suffered from similar problems), it really does enhance the cinematic experience of the movie.
The production design of 1920s New York is attractive in its subtlety (no Baz Luhrmann’s 'Great Gatsby' here) and the extension of J.K. Rowling’s world fits nicely into what we have seen so far of the universe. For younger audiences, it may take a while to warm up to the city setting and older characters (its relatability, being set in a school and story about kids growing up, was a big draw for Rowling’s earlier works), but the gorgeous designs of its fictional creatures and bewitching (teehee) story will captivate all audiences.
Without giving away too much, there are some really interesting side-plots at work here too, and the balance between these and the main storyline is expertly managed. In terms of cast, Eddie Redmayne is really just playing himself. The far more interesting characters, as is so often the case, are found in the supports. Alison Sudol as the flirtatious Queenie and Dan Fogler as Jacob, a No-Maj or ‘muggle’ who gets unwittingly pulled into the events, are especially delightful.
Overall, 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is one of the most enjoyable films of the year, and let’s be honest, there have been quite a few stinkers and disappointments in 2016. Here’s to escapism of the purest kind.