Now Showing: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros

Hannah Lee, News Editor

I picked up my first Harry Potter book when I was 10, and after just a few chapters, I never wanted to put it down. I flew through the entire series, and dove head first into what became an obsession with Harry’s magical adventures. When news came out about an extension of his world of magic, I was ecstatic, as every other fan was.

Recently, J.K. Rowling has been seemingly desperate to revive the hype around the  2011 series. Rowling has been feeding long-time fans just what they crave, from releasing new information about aspects of the series, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” illustrated versions of the books and now, an introduction to a five-part film series, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Rowling built this series on an extremely small base; “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was a title of a textbook that Harry and his schoolmates used at Hogwarts, a school of witchcraft and wizardry.

Set in the 1920s, the film’s plot revolves around the author of the textbook, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Redmayne shines throughout the film, building the lovable, awkward wizard into a humble hero. Newt’s rather timid personality is merely a deceiving outer shell, and his true self shines with his passion for magical creatures. He carries around a beat up, brown suitcase, which turns out to be a magical sanctuary for even the largest creatures.

Originally from England, Newt sets out for New York City with a particular mission involving some of his creatures. During this time period, the wizarding world is in crippling fear of being exposed to the non-magical world, believing  that exposure would lead to war.

Newt ends up wreaking accidental havoc when some of his beasts escape his suitcase, risking exposure. He runs into Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an ordinary, non-magical citizen, or what the wizarding world likes to call a “No-Maj” (the American take on the British word “muggle” from the original series), attracting the attention of ex-Magical Congress investigator Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston,) who attempts to get Newt imprisoned over the potential exposure of the wizarding world.

Though the three characters’ relationship is born out of conflict, they find themselves working together along with Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), a fellow witch, to fight against a bigger threat than Newt’s loose beasts terrorizing New Yorkers.

Nearly every franchise’s kickoff film struggles with overstuffing, and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is,unfortunately, no exception. It presents an overwhelming amount of information in two hours and 13 minutes.

Establishing Newt’s character and background, setting up his journey to heroism, shifting to the growing suspicion of witchcraft among the “No-Majs” and a dark wizard threatening to take over the world on the loose is difficult to absorb all at once.

Though it heads in too many directions, the film does achieve its goal of leaving enough mystery to be solved in upcoming sequels. And like in the “Harry Potter” series, director David Yates manages to successfully incorporate comedic relief, blossoming romance and CGI packed action into the lengthy film.

Any fan of the original series has all the background information required to understand the film, but to a newcomer, it may be hard to connect the dots and will leave too many questions unanswered. The film rewards longtime fans, occasionally dropping subtle references to the original series. One thing that struck me in particular was that despite the absence of Harry Potter himself,  “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” kept a few bars from “Hedwig’s Theme,” Harry Potter’s iconic theme song.

Behind the camera, there are a number of returning faces that give the film a sense of familiarity. Yates as director, who carried the last half of the Harry Potter films, Steve Kloves as producer and J.K. Rowling as screenwriter all return from their five-year break from the universe of Harry Potter to transition into Newt’s new journey.

Despite the nods to the original series, Newt’s story is completely separate from Harry Potter’s. I went in expecting to be hit with nostalgia and to be completely absorbed in the same world of Harry Potter from years ago. Only a few minutes in, I quickly dropped that expectation. It’s wrong to compare the two series—expecting the same out of a coming-of-age story about a chosen boy attending school and a grown man in the outside world with a passion for magical creatures is irrational.

With that in mind, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” did not deliver the same magic that the “Harry Potter” franchise did. Despite taking place in the same universe, they have their own unique personalities and journeys to heroism.

The story of Harry Potter is incomparable to any other, but “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” satisfies fans with an entirely new branch of the wizarding world nearly 70 years prior to the boy who lived.