Having been expelled from Hogwarts, Newt Scamander finds himself in 1920s New York with a suitcase full of magical wildlife. His intended quest is sidetracked when some specimens escape and, worse, get confused with a magical… something… which is wreaking havoc. Tangled up with a non-magical would-be pastry shop proprietor and a disgraced Auror, Newt’s life becomes exceedingly problematic.
After 7 novels, 8 movies, a couple of slim spin-off volumes and a play, the demand for Potter-related output shows no signs of abating.
The easiest thing in the world would have been to cash in with The Further Adventures Of Harry Potter, or Albus Potter Year 1, so kudos to J. K. Rowling and the Warner Bros production team for not taking the easy option.
Instead, they have taken Rowling’s little novelty book, one of Harry’s textbooks, and made a film out of part of the story of its author’s research. Rowling’s script expands the slim volume nicely.
This movie is great fun. Given the relatively simple story, the film is surprisingly densely plotted, with poor Newt at odds with muggle Kowalksi, demoted Auror Tina, the American wizarding establishment, Auror Graves, and evangelical anti-magic figurehead Mary-Lou and her downtrodden offspring Credence, all of whom are mostly at odds with each other, too.
This means that the plot holds your interest throughout, even though there are times when action flows across the screen at speeds which make it difficult to follow. And dialogue is delivered at a rate which assumes that you have memorised the books and are already familiar with the names.
I have seen the film criticised on the grounds that the young performers from the original films are missed.
I am in the opposite camp, since I always felt that the youngsters were by far the weakest part of the Harry Potter saga. The cast here are all very good: all strength, no weaknesses.
Eddie Redmayne is an enormously likeable Newt – shy, passionately devoted to the wildlife he is in charge of, and ingenious in solving problems. And Katherine Waterston’s Tina, juggling job, threats to her life, and a desire to do the right thing, also registers sympathetically. Beware only the Rule of Haircuts – you can tell the ones you have to worry about because of their dodgy hairstyles.
Of course, one of the reasons we go to these films for is the special effects. And subject to my reservations about how confusingly fast the action is at times, the effects are as good as we’ve come to expect. The 3D has its moments but is mostly dispensable. In particular, the realisation of 1920s New York is superb.
Fantastic Beasts shows that there is considerable life in the world of Harry Potter beyond the eponymous young oik’s academic career. I preferred it to many of the original films, and look forward to the sequel which the ending promises.