Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie director: David Yates
So, J K Rowling has done it. For all us sceptics who felt a little bit of magic dissipate with the announcement that the Harry Potter franchise had become the latest to fall to the temptation of a spin-off — and so soon after we had said goodbye to it — the wand has delivered us Newt Scamander.
Having appeared as just the writer of a title that was part of reading material at Hogwarts, Newt can’t be more different than Harry. Yet, he is just the flip side of the coin. If Harry is a hardscrabble boy discovering magic and finding his way in that world, Newt is a well-known wizard still moved by magic who is trying to find his way in a world of muggles.
And this is firmly where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is placed — in the real world, with its real capability of real evil. The magic and the real worlds interact yes, and the wands are wielded still to “Obliviate” witnesses every time that happens, but the danger here comes as much from the humans too.
Rowling, in her debut screenplay, adapting her own work, etches some very fine characters even as the battles are being waged, showing that she is as capable of dealing with adult emotions. Apart from Redmayne’s deliciously but also consistently awkward Newt (that tilted head is becoming a little tiresome), there is the delightful sister duo of Tina (Waterston) and Queenie (Sudol). They are nice studies in sibling companionship and tiny rivalries, even in the little time there is here.
The customary muggle — or “no-maj (for no-magic)” as they are called in America — Jacob (Fogler), too doesn’t overdo his presence as a stand-in for us in the audience.
At the other end is the extremely talented Morton playing Mary Lou, who leads a group of ‘New Salemers’ tracking down witches and wizards.
Yates shoots the destruction wrought by the dark beings called Obscurus in stunning, swift strokes. And every time the customary fireworks between good and evil threaten to look routine, the good acting consistently lifts the film.
The story finds Newt, who has newly returned from Africa, in New York in search of a particular magical beast. Or, it is what he says when caught with his briefcase full of other magical beasts, in a country that is cracking down on them in the jittery aftermath of First World War. There is no limit to what that briefcase can contain, and what comes out of it or goes in is set to surprise us, even when we are expecting it.
Tina is a recently demoted “Auror”, earlier an investigator of incidents such as those triggered by Newt in New York, and now trying to find her way back to the top of the order.
Among the creatures Newt lets loose inadvertently is the nifty Niffler, with a love for shiny things. Episodes involving him lifting purse buckles, coins and jewellery are the film’s best. Niffler resembles a regular platypus, but packs enough attitude in the tiny frame to overshadow beasts multiple times his size and colour.
The references to the Harry Potter universe are few and far between. And that shows the confidence with which Rowling and Yates, pulling off yet another successful Potter-linked film, approach the material.
Perhaps the film could have picked up pace towards the end. But clearly, no one here is in a hurry. There are four sequels planned, covering an intimidating 19-year span, Rowling has revealed.
That is more than even the distance Harry covered. However, it would take Newt to about the time zone characters from the Potter books are entering the picture.