Fantastic Beasts and where to find them does what it is meant to do: introduce us to characters that are magical in a magical world. It does not do much more than that, but what it does do is done pretty dog gone well.
For those of you who know nothing about the Harry Potter universe (and if you are one of those, just stop reading now and read the original books, see the movies, and then come back to see this film), Newt Scamander (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, proving yet again to any naysayers that his talent as an actor is quiet something to watch) is a magizoologist. He arrives in New York in 1926 (in the Wizarding World, this is seventy years before Harry Potter ever attended Hogwarts). A mishap occurs with a no maj (a non-wizard, aka “muggle” in Great Britain terms) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), resulting in many of Newt’s kept beasts are let loose in New York.
At the same time, Grindlewald (who will eventually confront Dumbledore) is on the loose, killing no majs and wizards alike (whether he shows up or the rumors about the actor who plays him are true, I will not say, though you may have heard by now). Investigations are led by the Wizarding President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and auror (a wizarding version of the police) Perceveil Graves (Colin Farrell). Graves is also trying to get help from a troubled boy named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, from The Flash). Graves is also trying to stop the dangers of Newt’s beasts. Assisting Newt and Jacob are witches Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who can read minds. Others with minor roles include Oscar winner Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny).
I admit a lot is happening on the screen, both special effects wise (which is obviously something spectacular to see) and screenplay wise (which is not too much to handle, but is close). Creator/writer/household name known everywhere J.K. Rowling wrote Fantastic Beasts and where to find them back in 2001 one for Comic Relief (it is meant to be one of the eventual text books at Hogwarts). I have never read it (though the original Potter series I consumed like oxygen), so I can’t say whether or not it is true to the source material completely or not. However, Rowling herself wrote the screenplay (her first), so really, who are we to disagree with her?
Parents, the PG-13 rating is not meant to say that you can’t take kids to this. If they have seen the original films (and if they haven’t, what are you waiting for?), then they are ok with this. There are a few curse words, nothing at all sexual, and quite a bit of action/peril. It is a little more on the side of the last few films of the original series, which makes sense, since films five six seven and eight were done by the same director, David Yates.
I hear now that we are getting more films to follow-up on Fantastic Beasts and where to find them. This does not excite me so much as it worries me. When The Hobbit films came out, I thought it was a mistake to add so much that it took three films to make the story complete (by the end, it all seemed superfluous). The same could be said for franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean (we are getting another one), Star Wars (kidding! kidding!) and Transformers (totally not kidding, and sadly another is coming out next year). Thankfully, if J.K. Rowling is still doing the writing, I have some hope for the Wizarding World.
Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2