‘Fantastic Beasts’: An enchanting prequel to ‘Harry Potter’

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) shows non-magical Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) a world of mystical creatures in a scene from "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" from director David Yates and writer J.K. Rowling. (AP)

New York City, 1926 – While on his way to the western United States, Newt Scamander (Redmayne) loses a small magical creature from his bag. In pursuit, Newt accidentally exposes the magical world to No-Maj/Muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who is at a bank to get a loan. But when Jacob releases multiple creatures from the bag, Newt needs the help of Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), a member of the Magical Congress of the United States, to get them back. And on the way, the group discovers a darker, sinister ploy woven through the magical American underground.

Writer J.K. Rowling has crafted a new tale to bring audiences back to the world she created for Harry Potter, and this foray into an entirely new series is both imaginative and fun. If viewers are fans of the Harry Potter series who crave attention to detail, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a delightful, absorbing experience. Simply put, the film is a visual spectacle that rapidly absorbs the audience. There is really no limit to the detail that can be found in the film, with elements and threads that tie into other parts of the fictional universe, while at the same time providing amble opportunity for later expansion and entertainment for new viewers.

This healthy, thriving environment is brought to life and populated with characters who feel very real, almost as if they are about to step off the screen. The subtle, yet wide-range of Redmayne makes his character immediately likable, and it becomes impossible to not want him to succeed. Opposite to Redmayne’s Scamander, Fogler and Waterson play important roles as audience surrogates, the former for those unfamiliar with the series. Combined, the cast displays a healthy level of emotional investment that is able to lock up audience interest.

But, with the imagination and even the magic nearly reaching a saturation point, it was inevitable that the film would become bogged with detail. This becomes more apparent in the second act, as the pacing drags and various scenes occur that seem to exist only to help inflate the film’s length. Some of these scenes don’t add much to the story and, while they might add humor, they disrupt the pace and make the film feel longer than it is. Yates’ direction is able to compensate for this through his attention to storytelling, strengthening the plot through spectacle and splendor.

Featuring a message that reminds audiences to embrace who they are, writer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates’ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is an enchanting cinematic ride to be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Although the pace and narrative may seem a bit drawn-out and occasionally erratic, the overall story remains one of strength, with dazzling imagery and an impressive splash of imagination and world-building that is sure to bring viewers back time and time again.

My grade: 7.5 out of 10 stars.

(Timothy Hogg has a minor in film and media studies from Slippery Rock University. Readers may contact him by email at timothyhogg.thederrick@gmail.com.)