Written by J.K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a spin-off to her Harry Potter franchise. Directed by David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films, the film is set in 1926 New York and follows ex-Hogwarts student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who travels to the city as part of a global study of fantastic beasts. But when he gets caught up in a conflict of a group of extremist No-Majs and a mystical act of destruction, some of the magical creatures in his case are accidentally released. With the help of a No-Maj named Jacob (Dan Fogler) and two members of MACUSA (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol), he must find all of his creatures before they are blamed for the mysterious deaths that are adding up, causing magic and non-magic folk alike to panic.
If you’ve read Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them from The Hogwarts Library, then you would likely have put that book down thinking “Now if only we could see what all of these magnificent creatures look like!” And so, I was really looking forward to seeing how these descriptions would be brought to life.
What I was expecting was for Rowling to start a whole new Harry Potter spin-off, expanding on the world of Harry and Hogwarts into the wider world and taking us back to a time when it all began for some of the older characters from her books.
And that’s what I love about this film. Not only does Rowling take the time to craft a simple and charming tale of Newt searching the streets for his lost beasts, but she also combines this with a deep, magical context of a franchise we fell in love with many years ago, one that we had to sadly come to terms with ending, as she welcomes the British wizarding world into America to begin a whole new adventure.
We have two stories in one. The first introduces us to the new leader of this franchise, Newt, and his love of fantastical creatures, setting this franchise up on its own with a fun adventure and intensely likeable characters, whilst the latter sets up the bigger picture, opening up a story that we’ve briefly read about in the Harry Potter books: the days of Grindelwald and a young Dumbledore.
The combination of having these nostalgic references to the past (which is actually 80 years in the future) and all of these new characters to get to know is balanced really well. With many comments about Hogwarts, Dumbledore, and quidditch, there’s enough reflection on the original series to fill fans of Harry Potter with comfort (because we all miss the original series deeply!) but there are also many new concepts that leave so much more to be explored.
With two more films announced for the future, as well, this new franchise promises to expand on some of the history that Rowling touched on in her original books, linking closely to the original stories and characters whilst also allowing us to see a side of the magical world outside of Hogwarts that Rowling was limited to before.
I only wish J.K. Rowling had written this trilogy of films as books first, not as a screenplay, so that she could detail all of these new characters and their backgrounds in full. But saying that, she does an exceptional job of crafting so much story, context, and characters (a few of whom we knew a little about already) that it works incredibly well at it is.
As for the film itself, the story is an exciting adventure to follow with great special effects, stunning costumes and set pieces, vivid imagination, darker undertones, and excellent casting.
Eddie Redmayne plays Newt brilliantly. He was perfectly cast to lead this franchise as his bumbling English charm reflects Newt’s timid yet incredibly likeable character in the best way. The supporting cast is excellent, too. Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, and Alison Sudol, are a lot of fun to follow, and Ezra Miller is brilliantly creepy.
And we all knew that Johnny Depp had been cast in this franchise somewhere, but the revelation of his character comes as a huge surprise, ending the film on a very intriguing cliffhanger. I’m not sure about his casting, but I certainly can’t wait to see how the story will progress.