One of the most pleasing characteristics of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the sheer lack of fan service. I think it took guts for the filmmakers to not shoehorn in a bunch of Harry Potter characters just to please the squealing fan girls, and I’m really glad they made this film its own. There are just a few mentions of characters we know of, but other than that, this is a contained story that takes place in the Harry Potter universe, but certainly isn’t a Harry Potter movie.
Newt Scamander, played by the Academy’s favorite young star, Eddie Redmayne, is a wizard and Hogwarts expellee traveling to New York with a case full of magical creatures. In an unexpected situation involving a No-Maj (or a Muggle), the beasts are released into the city in the midst of frightened citizens. Redmayne brings a quirkiness and a lovability to this character that I really didn’t expect, but the ways in which he connects with the audience are quite fascinating. The character knows a lot about beasts from the Wizarding World, so he knows all of the tricks to tame them and control them. There’s a very touching bond between him and some of the creatures that he obviously cares for, and that connection reaches out to the audience as well, especially during some of the more heartfelt scenes.
The creatures themselves, for the most part, look incredible. There are a few CGI images that are, while not poorly done, still obviously CGI. Similar to Snoke and Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens, there are a few creatures in this movie that look like they were generated on a computer, and seeing those creatures reminded me that I was watching a movie rather than experiencing something real. There are some magical beasts, though, that are mindbogglingly realistic, and didn’t doubt for a second that they could jump or fly right out of the screen.
The film takes place in 1920’s New York, which makes room for quite a few possibilities. This is a fascinating time period, and I think it fits well with the magical setting of the film. The wizard elements and the real-world New York elements mesh in a very satisfying way, and the period is also portrayed in an immersive and believable way. I have to give major props to the production designers, art directors, costume and makeup departments, and everybody who contributed to the setting of this movie who may go unnoticed by casual film-goers. As fascinating a time period this is, it’s also a difficult one to get right, so I’m impressed that they were able to pull off the right tone and setting for the film.
I really admire the score of this movie, composed by James Newton Howard, but not just the musical compositions themselves. I thought the effective ways in which the score was used during certain points in the movie was really clever and unconventional. During a very entertaining scene in which Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler (who is hilarious and brilliant in the movie), is being chased by a rhinoceros-type creature, the music isn’t fast and intense, but rather it’s very gentle and light, almost classical in a way. This was not only an unusual and bold choice, but it helped to play the scene for comedy, which I think is what the filmmakers were intending.
Harry Potter was an obsession of mine when I was younger, and I still really like the books and the films, so I was naturally excited for this movie. It’s “based on the book” of the same name, but it’s not really based on any story. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fictional textbook written by J.K. Rowling, so this film really only took the title and made the fictional author of that book the main character here. I was impressed that a compelling story was able to have been built around the idea of that book, and I was glad that this “adaptation” wasn’t tied down to any plot points previously written down in a novel. The movie felt free and refreshing because I hadn’t heard the story before, and although it’s not nearly as riveting or satisfying as most of the Harry Potter films, I think Fantastic Beasts should stand on its own and not be compared to the other movies that take place in its same universe.
— Camden McDonald