sat 13/07/2024

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them | reviews, news & interviews

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

JK Rowling casts a new spell starring Eddie Redmayne as a wand-wielding zookeeper

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scaramander in 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

Name seven students in Ravenclaw. Which 14 subjects are on the syllabus at Hogwarts? Create a shopping list of 20 different types of magical sweet. In her Harry Potter stories JK Rowling conjured up an almanack of wizarding facts and figures which, for parents, proved extremely useful during long car journeys or steep mountain climbs (even if this parent didn’t know all the answers). A handy staple was “List 16 magical creatures”.

It would keep them going for hours because, if memory serves, Rowling created only 14 of them. That all changes in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Hippogriffs, blasted-end skrewts and the like are now joined by a teeming menagerie of new creatures: a duck-billed kleptocritter known as a Niffler (pictured below), a lock-picking Bowtruckle insect, a hot-to-trot pachyderm called an Erumpent and the winged serpentine Occamy which grows and shrinks to fit the available space. All these and others fall under the beady care of Newt Scamander, a so-called magizoologist who wanders about the planet caring for endangered species. He stores them in a suitcase, which acts as a portal into an enchanted underworld.The name will be familiar to anyone who knows their way around the Hogwarts library. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a text book, devoured by Hermione, written by a Hogwarts old boy. For her next trick, Rowling has imagined the author into being. He takes the form of Eddie Redmayne at his most impish, with saucer blue eyes, a shy sidling lope and an awkward overbite.

The plot finds him arriving off the boat in New York, where political extremism and anti-magical hysteria make it an unsafe place to be a wizard or a witch. The higher-ups of MACUSA (Magical Congress of the USA which, please note, has a black female president) favour discretion, and obliviating any No-Maj (sic. Yank for Muggle) who sees them at large. The problem is one of containment, what with an almighty dark force at work, inexplicably knocking down buildings and ripping up streets.Scamander is soon ensnared when, in a delightful opening sequence set in a bank, his suitcase is accidentally swapped with that of a tubby New Yorker called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). A disgraced young auror called Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston. pictured above with Redmayne) latches onto Scamander as an opportunity for professional redemption, soon involving her ditzy mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol channelling Marilyn Monroe). Meanwhile in a house for orphans run by a fanatic bent on stamping out wizards (Samantha Morton), two children attract the attention of the Director of Magic Security (Colin Farrell, not looking hugely comfortable in this world of make-believe).  A late uncredited cameo for one of the biggest stars in the firmament promises panto dastardliness in the sequels to come (no fewer than four more have been slated).

In his interview with theartsdesk, director David Yates calls this “basically Harry Potter for grown-ups”. Allusions to Fascism, racial intolerance and species threatened with extinction all suggest a franchise with every intention to reflect a No-Maj world where such things are for real right now. Redmayne, who recently turned himself into a girl, now turns back into a barely grown boy. It’s a relief to come upon a Rowling film carried by a star with lashings of screen panache and unforced charisma. No disrespect to those child actors who grew up on screen, this is a more mature entertainment in which Fogler and Sudol (pictured below) lay in a good supply of laughs from the playbook of oddball romantic comedy. Waterston, meanwhile, is a perfect foil for Newt as a crotchety blue-stocking.As for the visuals, they’re predictably glorious – not only the titular beasts, but the bricks and mortar of Twenties New York (where the Erumpent has an ice dance that's a clean lift from Peter Jackson's King Kong). If there’s a quibble about the SFX, it’s that the creature doing all the damage, a sort of black argy-bargying whirlwind known as an obscurus, is a bit underwhelming as a half-invisible villain.

For kids or kidults, it’s still whizzbang escapism with goblins and dragons. “Try very hard not to be predictable,” says Newt as he’s attempting to corner a beast. So far, magi-mission accomplished.



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