Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ a great addition to the Harry Potter universe

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Despite the fact that I will go forth from this point pretending that the year 2016 never existed, I cannot deny one positive thing that’s come out of these past eleven months.

It’s been a damn good year for Harry Potter fans.

Although we suffered the tragic loss of Alan Rickman in January, which was deeply felt by the Potter community, a lot of good came of this year. Between The Cursed Child – the play and the read-along script – and a patronus quiz, not to mention countless tweets of information, the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Los Angeles, eBooks off Pottermore and more, I think we can agree that fans have a lot to be happy about.

And after getting around to the local theater, I can positively say that the first installment of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them adds substantially to the list.

Meet your new "gang." Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Meet your new “gang.” Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Fantastic Beasts is something all its own, but remains connected to the heartwarming foundation that we get from the original Harry Potter stories. When it opens on the Warner Bros. logo with a faint clip of “Hedwig’s Theme,” it’s almost impossible not to feel at home, and yet it then immediately transforms into something new. It’s an odd feeling to attend the premiere of a Harry Potter-related film with no inkling of what’s to come, but it’s not a bad one.

The film is incredibly light-hearted and pure while still displaying some of the darker themes we’ve been known to witness in the wizarding world, and as always, it teaches a lesson or two. It takes what was a small 50-page encyclopedia-style textbook and turns it into a wonderful adventure (with a few changes.) To see these creatures, ones not entirely identifiable beforehand, flourish across the screen in the forms of a majestic thunderbird cleansing New York City of its wrong-doings or a tiny, but hilarious niffler getting into trouble is an exciting leap for the audience. Not to mention, North American fans can now revel in the fact that they too have a magical place within the story, seeing MACUSA, the magical governing body of the United States, take shape amongst one of the nation’s most popular cities.

Eddie Redmayne shines as the adorable magizoologist. Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Eddie Redmayne shines as the adorable magizoologist. Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Eddie Redmayne, innocent and lovable by nature and not to mention incredible in any role he portrays (The Theory of Everything, Les Miserables), is perfect in his role as Newt Scamander. He is a pleasure to watch, even through his mumbling and bumbling, and the rest of the cast flourishes around him.

Most notably, we have muggle (or no-maj) Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Folger. The most prominent interaction this series has had with muggles is that of the Dursleys. Kowalski is the exact opposite, a charming addition to the world, who directly reflects the bright-eyed wonder most Harry Potter fans feel about the series.

Mischief is not managed, folks. Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Mischief is not managed, folks. Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Also a must-discuss is the performance by Ezra Miller as the broken down, mentally and physically abused Credence. Not only does his character help us create an understanding of life pre-Voldemort and pre-modern idealism (both magical and not), he gives us a taste of what Harry could’ve become if it weren’t for people like Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid.

Of course, there is no bringing up Professor Dumbledore without touching on the inclusion of his friend-become-foe Gellert Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp. When this series was announced, I doubt any Potter fan imagined it would spiral into what is essentially the truth behind The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, written by notorious Daily Prophet journalist Rita Skeeter.

Grindelwald is introduced immediately, already set up as the main antagonist of our five-movie adventure. Rowling announced that the time span of the films would end in 1945, the same year Dumbledore defeated him. No Potter fan could’ve imagined that we’d be getting this story in one film let alone a series just a year ago. The film did an excellent job of aesthetically creating his character. The eyes, the hair, the menace all create a picture a bit more enticing than the young man seen at the end of The Deathly Hallows in the window of Gregorovitch’s wand shop.

Now of course, there stands the issue with casting Johnny Depp in the first place, which is uncomfortable at the very least. It’s a hard situation to grasp, especially coming from Rowling who is a very persistent supporter of equal rights for and the treatment of women, etc. It’s a tough situation, one that I do not have quite yet have a solution for. We can only hope that the people who have worked hard the past ten years to deliver us these movies will speak up and support what is right and what is truthful.

In all, the film was a brilliant addition to the wizarding world. It feels different without our usual characters, accents abound, the scenery of the old and established Hogwarts and the surrounding European terrain, but it still somehow manages to feel like home. It seems that every time we think we’ve seen the last of this magnificent world, Rowling finds a way to bring us back in without demeaning what she’s already created. And for that, we are very, very lucky.

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