Friday, November 18, 2016 8:00 am ·  0 Comments
History and legacy have always been defining qualities in movie advertising, including the buzz and build-up for new flicks to their loyal fans. This same idea lends itself as the key moral for the spellbinding Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, opening with much fanfare and a soft foot today.
Fifteen years ago this weekend marked the debut of a small family fantasy movie called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the time since, it has become the largest franchise for Warner Bros. Studios, grossing $7.7 billion worldwide across eight films in ten years.
Big shoes to fill.
Fantastic Beasts is opening in the same number of the screens on the same weekend five years after the last instalment of the Harry Potter series, though the wizarding world is seen here through magnificent new eyes.
J. K. Rowling (ex-billionaire due to massive charitable contributions) is perhaps the best-known author alive today, and after twenty years of writing novels about the boy who lived, Fantastic Beasts marks her first original screenplay, deftly captained by director David Yates (who also directed the last three Harry Potter films from 2009-2011).
The newest adventure is set in New York City, circa 1926. Magizoologist (Magical animal expert) Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has arrived in the USA after a year around the world finding and rescuing an array of magical creatures and strange animals.
After an accidental briefcase mix-up, however, some of the animals are set loose in New York, and must be found and returned safely. With predictable mayhem and some American wizards as his guide, Scamander must navigate the city, find his creatures, and evade the curse that will lay the foundation for another wizard with a certain lighting shaped scar.
The original story is refreshing for Pottermania fans, who will welcome the joy of a plot they are unfamiliar with (and has been thankfully kept well hidden). Rowling’s script is wry and spunky like much of her work, though the movie is much breezier and lighter hearted then previous Potter movies.
And that’s worth pointing out – this is not a Harry Potter movie. It is a prequel, a spin-off, and a set up for the obvious franchise that is beginning. But Newt Scamander’s story is more whimsical and, yes, fantastic then Harry’s. There is still the expected dark imagery and themes of equality, racism, and responsibility, but it is very new.
The film only stumbles when finding pace and tone. The movie unfolds very slowly, like it knows the whole tale will have five movies (as announced) to really finish the job. The first hour, in particular, feels very quiet, with minimal dialogue and little action.
Still, the quiet, slow burn eventually works its magic, and the cast elevates it to giddy pleasure with how welcoming this world is to place on screen. The chemistry between Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler is notably warm, and there are some great cameos from Hollywood heavyweights like Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, and even a surprise appearance I won’t spoil, but definitely packs a punch.
Fantastic Beasts is a solid start to a new series and a welcome return to the wizarding world, even if it doesn’t reach the lofty heights and daring magic of the series that inspired it. But the aura of The Phantom Menace or The Hobbit is missing: here’s a case where the movie stands on it’s legs, and leaves us wanting more.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
2 1/2 out of 4 Stars
PG, 132 minutes, History Fantasy.
Directed by David Yates. Written by J. K. Rowling.
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katharine Waterston, Alison Sudol, and Dan Fogler.
Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill, and Cineplex Oakville & VIP. Also in IMAX 3D.
Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, David Yates, Eddie Redmayne, Epic, Fantastic Beasts, Fantasy, Harry Potter, Historical Fiction, J. K. Rowling, Jon Voight, Katharine Waterston, Movies, November 18th 2016, reviews, Ron Perlman