Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with an illegal cargo of magical animals, which are banned in the United States. Newt is trying to prove that there is nothing to fear from these magical animals and they should be protected. However, the animals escape and with help from Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and muggle, or No-Maj, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Newt tries to return the animals back to the suitcase and to safety. Meanwhile, in the muggle world there is anti-magic sentiment brewing which threatens to lead to war.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them presents the chance for people to see the Wizarding World outside the British Isles, from a visual medium at least. Yes, we see students from two European schools, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, appear at Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament in The Goblet of Fire, but we never really saw their schools, their customs or their countries. With Fantastic Beasts we get a glimpse at the American Wizarding life in the late 1920s. In fact, the film starts with a series of newspaper clippings that smartly contextualises the story, introducing us to the fact that muggles-wizard relations are tense, there’s a dark wizard on the loose and magical animals are banned, its a fine start that brings us straight up to date regarding the politics of the American wizarding world.
Even though Fantastic Beasts is spin-off rather than a film related to the main series of films we still get things from the series of novels, such as the Niffler (platypus like animal with an interest for gold) and mentions of Dumbledore and Hogwarts. The film retains much of the magic of the films, and also has the elements of darkness that made the films after The Chamber of Secrets better than the first two, even though its arguable that the film’s tone is little uneven. The film is however entertaining, regular Potter director David Yeats is back in the director’s chair and he keeps the magic coming with the film recreating 1920s New York brilliantly. He does, however, struggle to keep the pace consistent (the film’s length being one of the causes) with all the various story lines in J.K Rowling’s script converging into one.
Despite the film’s pacing issues, it’s a welcome return to the wizarding world, the first since part 2 of Deathly Hallows, with the film introducing us to a new cast of characters. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as the awkward Newt Scamander is engaging enough and Dan Fogler’s comic performance is highly infectious even though his romance with Alison Sudol’s Queenie Goldstein is about as believable as the conspiracy theory that the British Royal Family are lizards. There’s two pretty menacing performances from the villains of the piece as both Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton are excellent but Mary Lou Barebone’s villainy is the darkest aspect of the film, even though it’s perhaps tonally misjudged but a common theme in the works of JK Rowling.
Themes of identity play a strong role as they did in the series of novels and films, and direct comparisons to real laws of the time, such as no interracial marriages, are made. It’s a welcome return to the world imagined by J.K. Rowling and there are promises of further sequels in the works.