Review: 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is Deathly Hollow

November 17, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Back in 1997, author J.K. Rowling unveiled a fantasy novel, titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, introducing readers around the world to Harry Potter, an orphan who, on his eleventh birthday, learns he is a wizard. Potter is whisked away from his mundane reality to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he practices magic under the guidance of Albus Dumbledore and makes lifelong friends in Rubeus Hagrid, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. During his time at the school, Potter learns of his magical heritage, and of Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard who's responsible for the death of his parents.

In 1998, Rowling's book — released in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone — was selected as the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, and the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, and topped the NY Times list of best-selling fiction. The book found immense popularity, critical acclaim, and worldwide commercial success, eventually spawning six sequels and becoming a cornerstone of modern young adult literature.

In 2001, Warner Bros released a feature film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by screenwriter Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus, with Rowling serving as a creative consultant. That same year, the author released a supplementary material to the series, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a textbook owned by Harry Potter and written by Magizoologist Newt Scamander. The 128-page book details the history of Magizoology and describes 85 magical species found around the world.

Fast-forward to 2013. After the Harry Potter franchise had become the second-highest-grossing film series with $7.7 billion in worldwide receipts, Warner Bros announced that Rowling was penning a screenplay — her first — based on Fantastic Beasts and the adventures of Newt Scamander, set in 1926, 70 years before "The Boy Who Lived" attended Hogwarts. A year later, it was announced that the movie would be the first entry in a prequel trilogy. Two years after that, Rowling cast a Gemino spell and magically transformed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them into a five-film series. Warner Bros — the studio that stretched The Hobbit into three flimsy films and has yet to make anything of their DC Extended Universe — needs a guaranteed box office hit to compete with Walt Disney and the one-two punch of Star Wars and Marvel Studios. And so here we are, with five Harry Potter prequels based on a 128-page faux-textbook.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed by David Yates, who helmed the last four Potter films, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne (seen in The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl) as Newt Scamander, an eccentric, introverted wizard who has dedicated his life to researching and rescuing magical creatures. He safeguards these endangered animals in an enchanted suitcase that contains a plethora of terrains for them to inhabit. Newt's commitment to these creatures has brought him to New York City, to return a Thunderbird named Frank to his natural habitat. His plans are put on hold, however, when he accidentally swaps suitcases with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a "No-Maj" (American for Muggle) factory worker, who unleashes the Magizoologist's beloved beasts into the streets.

Meanwhile, a malicious evil force is causing widespread unrest in the wizarding world. Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) believes that wizards are a superior race, and is gathering support from those who share his anti-Muggle sentiment. MACUSA (aka the Magical Congress of the United States of America) President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), investigate the mysterious entity wreaking havoc in the city while ex-Auror Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her bubbly sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), help Newt and Jacob hunt down his beasts before they come to harm. Their mission, however, will put them on a collision course with Grindelwald's dark forces, and could potentially push the wizarding and No-Maj worlds to the brink of war.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has its charms, namely the creatures. There's the mischievous Niffler, a furry, duck-billed rodent with a marsupial-type pouch that expands to store an endless amount of shiny coins and purloined treasures. The Niffler is impossibly cute, and the scenes in which Newt and Jacob attempt to catch the rascally rodent comprise the movie's most entertaining moments. There's also a twig-like Bowtruckle named Pickett, the silver-haired Demiguise, a sloth-ape with precognitive sight and the power of invisibility, and Occamy, a winged dragon that can grow or shrink to fit any space. The creatures, designed by Yates, Rowling, visual effects supervisors Tim Burke & Christian Manz, and Pablo Grillo's VFX computer animation team, are wondrous and show a spark of creativity the rest of the film lacks.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

As for the story, it's stretched impossibly thin. Newt's adventure works fine as Pokémon for the Jazz Age, but the film's larger narrative, involving the anti-magic New Salem Philanthropic Society and a young man named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), simply doesn't work. An overwrought finale filled with false endings and computer-generated mass destruction doesn't help either. Regarding performances, Redmayne is adequate as Newt, a likable if insignificant character who feels overshadowed in his own movie. Fogler is surprisingly tolerable as the comedic relief, but it's actually Colin Farrell who gives the film its only standout performance as the enigmatic Graves. Really, with so little happening in terms of narrative or emotional stakes, it's the beasts that steal the show. The film's greatest pleasures are in exploring Newt's suitcase full of magical animals — and the Niffler's hijinks, of course.

By bringing Grindelwald — a character prominent in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — into the picture, it's clear that these films will be more concerned with expanding the Potter universe than telling a new story that stands on its own. I imagine that, by the time we reach the fifth Beasts film, we'll see Newt as a guest professor at Hogwarts, teaching a class of bright students, including Young Severus Snape™, Young Lily Potter™, Young James Potter™, and Young Sirius Black™. By then, Warner Bros and Rowling will have already announced their next seven-film saga, following Harry's parents through their schooling at Hogwarts and ending where Philosopher's Stone begins. And then in 2030, once all the magic has been drained from the series, a 41-year-old Daniel Radcliffe will return for — of course — the big-screen adaptation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, sending fans young and old on a nostalgic trip back to Hogwarts.

Until then, we'll have to make do with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, an underwhelming entry in the ever-expanding Potter lore that offers little, other than reminding us how good the original films are.

Adam's Rating: 3 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier

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There's more analysis of the entire Harry Potter media franchise than there is review.....

Charles Oosterhouse on Nov 17, 2016


I felt the same way.

Xerxexx on Nov 17, 2016


It was entertaining but it just didn't have that Harry Potter feel. And it Jumped around too much.

tyban81 on Nov 17, 2016


You can't blame them to milk the cow. Look at what happened for Star Wars, Fast and Furious, Transformers, etc. As long as people are willing to pay, they willl keep making sequels/prequels/ pre-sequels/justnameit. Deathly Hallows was horribly disappointing BTW.

tarek on Nov 18, 2016


The more recent Fast and the Furious movies have been the best of the series. The Force Awakens for many people has been the best movie since Empire Strikes Back. It's not milking the cow when there are still great stories to be told. That expression is an insult and not a compliment.

YourMomInABox on Nov 18, 2016


I agree with you somewhat. If there is still a story to be told, then be it, and I would be glad to watch it. Now, speaking about F&F franchise, I never cared about this car race-boobs cocktail. I'm no longer a teen. But I reckon that F&F 5 was a damn good pop corn flick. Even my wife who isn't into that thing liked it. Force awakens was indeed a great add, that reconciliated me with a beloved universe I lost a long time ago.

tarek on Nov 18, 2016


The first Fast and the Furious came out when I was 25 I think. I don't think it's a franchise for teenagers. Car enthusiasts in many ways represent an older demographic since kids now a days are taught to think of internal combustion as the enemy 😉

YourMomInABox on Nov 18, 2016


What bothers me a lot in this franchise is the "Hey! Look at me! I can piss farther" core this F&F franchise. It's like seeing a bunch of kids trying to impress a girl. Oh! and while I love boobs just like any normal men, I don't enjoy seeing women used (again) as props and eyecandy during these contests. Call me old school.

tarek on Nov 18, 2016


My wife and I are still very excited to take our son to see this, mediocre reviews and all. The fact that Dumbledore and Grindlewald will feature prominently in the series only makes it more exciting.

David Diaz on Nov 18, 2016


Sounds like magical Pokemon

TheOct8pus on Nov 18, 2016


I think the movie accomplished it's mission. It laid the foundation for the new series by introducing us to the wizarding world in America, and the four main characters I assume we will be following throughout this series. Of course we aren't going to be as attached to them as we were Harry, Ron and Hermione. Honestly I wasn't attached to those three after Sorcerer's Stone, it takes a couple of movies to really get a feel for the characters. So don't go into it expecting another Harry Potter. Instead go into it willing to take a chance on a new group of likable protagonists swept up in events beyond their control in a fantastic setting. Rowling knows how to world build, so just go along for the ride. I say 4 out of 5.

MrFoo on Nov 18, 2016


Sequel for the sake of sequel, and Potter fans couldn't be more delighted. Potter-verse isn't my thing, however I get it, because - STAR WARS.

RAW_D on Nov 18, 2016


To be honest, I didn't read the books. But I am quite sure they were 1000 times better than the "Muggled" version Yates gave us. Rowling is a terrific fantasy writer.

tarek on Nov 18, 2016


The books were better lol! The only movie that held a candle to the book was "Prizoner of Azkaban". The rest were rushed and omitted too much. Hard to translate books to films sometimes (*a lot of the time).

RAW_D on Nov 21, 2016


I enjoyed it immensely. Can't wait for more. Was kinda bummed out with Jacobs ending...I know he lucked out...but still.

Xerxexx on Nov 18, 2016


you lost me at the uncalled and unnesecary DC bashing

Nahuel Benvenuto on Nov 19, 2016


I think we saw entirely different movies! I am a massive potterhead so it was obvious I was going to love it but even still objectively it is a fine movie. the wife who thinks harry potter is for kids loved this one too! my reivew

Viral on Nov 19, 2016


While nothing spectacular, it was an enjoyable film on its own merits, and set up an interesting look at other parts of the Wizarding World that Hogwarts is but one part of. If anything, the reveal of Grindelwold would be my biggest complaint - would have rather had his underling talking to him, the Depp reveal, and thus setting up for the next film.

VAharleywitch on Nov 22, 2016


Am i the only one who thought the Harry Potter movies were much better off having different directors for each movie. I also don't think David Yates brought the best out of the series, and don't think it was a good decision to have him direct all of these movies.

eris on Nov 25, 2016

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