by Miles Barber (CE ’18)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is about Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard with a particular fondness for the magical creatures, some of which he keeps in an enchanted suitcase. Newt arrives in 1926 New York City in the midst of turmoil; strange occurrences are threatening to reveal the wizarding world to the non-magical community as it seems there are dark forces at work. Could the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald be involved? Newt gets his magical case mixed up with a very similar non-magical suitcase belonging to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), which results in some of the creatures getting loose and the exposure of the wizarding world to Jacob. Tina Goldstein, a former auror (like wizard police), also gets involved through Newt’s unregistered arrival to New York. Meanwhile, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a high-level auror, is trying to recruit Credence (Ezra Miller) to help him find out what is causing these strange occurrences; Credence thinks it might be an orphan child under the care of Mary Lou, a magic-hater.
There is quite a lot going on in this film and quite a few characters to keep track of. Surprisingly, the film does a good job of balancing everything. I’m not sure if it will be more difficult for someone unfamiliar with the Harry Potter books or films, but it was easy to follow most of the time. That doesn’t stop there from being some pacing and tonal issues in the middle of this film. There is a scene in this film involving a floating chair that just seemed out of nowhere and rushed. On top of that, the mixture of the different stories isn’t always that smooth. For example, the main story of Newt and finding all of his magical creatures that were let loose is pretty light and fun in tone. But the “behind-the-scenes” story involving Graves and Credence is very dark and sometimes confusing. It shows the brutality wizards face at the hands of people who want to burn them in creating a “New Salem.” Mary Lou, along with a few other characters in the film, is incredibly cruel to anyone sympathizing with magic. There is some dark content implied in this story that just doesn’t mix very well with the lighthearted fun of Newt searching for his creatures.
Still, there are a lot of great things to talk about. For one, the acting is great in this film. Eddie Redmayne seems perfectly cast in the role of Newt Scamander, an awkward wizard whose eyes light up when he’s interacting with his creatures. The music adds a few layers to this feeling as well. Composer James Newton Howard has always been good at producing scores that feel wondrous. The main theme for this film is no different. The film also does a great job at showing everyone what it’s like to live in this world. There are so many cool things that I wish were real in the wizarding world like clocks that tell you where certain people are and trunks with enough space inside to fit an entire zoo. Jacob Kowalski is like us; he gets exposed to all of this magic and reacts to it with a mixture of fear, bewilderment, and then excitement. This provides quite a lot of situational humor that added some more levity to Newt’s story.
Overall, I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It has some great acting, a good score, likable characters, and tells an entertaining story. There are a few tonal and pacing issues in the film, particularly in the middle, and the story may not be easy to follow for someone not familiar with at least the Harry Potter films. But I still had a great time with it and would recommend checking it out. ◊