m sorry to say that when I first watched the Harry Potter movies, I wasn’t too impressed. I hadn’t read any of the books (and still haven’t!!) and I felt that this had a negative effect on my enjoyment of the movies. I wasn’t excited about seeing a particular character or scene faithfully recreated in film and the movies, in my opinion, seemed to rely on you having read the books so that all they had to do was throw as much of that on screen as possible in order to reward the fans. I enjoyed Prisoner of Azkaban, and some aspects of the later movies, but the majority of them just bored and baffled me. Recently though, I’ve re-watched them all as my youngest daughter began reading the books and became interested. And then over the summer we went as a family to the brilliant Warner Bros Studio Tour just outside of London. I found myself enjoying the movies a lot more the second time around, and the tour just gave me such a huge appreciation for the whole franchise and the sheer amount of detail and work that went into producing them all.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very different in that it is mentioned only as a school textbook within the Harry Potter series. A directory of magical creatures rather than a story and written by Newt Scamander, a character who only provides an introduction to the book rather than actually featuring within it. J K Rowling has taken that small textbook and expanded it into something huge, focusing directly on the character of Newt Scamander in what has now gone from being a proposed trilogy to a series of five movies!
Fantastic Beasts has gone all out though to ensure it aligns itself firmly with the Harry Potter series, despite being set some 70 years before them. David Yates, director of the first four movies, is back. The familiar twinkling John Williams theme is present and even the opening scene is told using the magical newspapers featured so heavily throughout the Potter movies. And with the occasional reference to Hogwarts and some of its key characters, it’s not long before this movie feels comforting and familiar. We’re in 1920s New York, beautifully brought to life with the same skill and detailed production design that we’ve come to know and love from Harry Potter. Newt arrives in New York as part of a worldwide trip dedicated to cataloguing the Fantastic Beasts that will eventually make up his book. Beasts are banned in New York though, so he has to be careful. But it’s not long until some of his beasts get loose, and we discover that there are some even bigger, nastier beasts already loose in New York too.
Eddie Redmayne is his usual likeable, bumbling self, playing a character who’s a cross between Doctor Who and Doctor Doolittle. His suitcase is like his TARDIS, a huge home for all the beasts he has caught and a place for him to care for and communicate with them. After his suitcase is accidentally swapped with a similar one belonging to a No-Maj (an American muggle), chaos follows and he begins drawing attention to himself from the local wizarding community.
It’s the scenes where a beast is on the loose, causing havoc around New York while Newt and his new found colleagues chase after them that are the most entertaining – funny and beautifully detailed. Between those there are a fair few dull moments and irrelevant characters, but not enough to affect the overall enjoyment.
It’s fair to say that if you’re a Harry Potter fan then you’re going to love this. Even more so if the promise of a younger Dumbledore in future movies is to be believed. As an introduction to a new era of wizarding, it works well, and I look forward to many more years of marketing hype and enjoyment with the rest of the series!