November 23, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Redmayne Is a Wizard With a Menagerie of Fantastic Mythical Creatures

movie-rev-11-23-16We are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he disembarks from a steamship from England that has just arrived in the New York harbor in 1926. The young wizard has to resort to some sleight-of-hand illusions in order to slip through customs, because his suitcase is filled to bursting with a unique type of contraband.

It turns out that Newt is hiding a menagerie of mythical creatures with unusual names like obscurials, bowtruckles, and dougals. Thanks to the unreliable latch on his tattered leather satchel, it doesn’t take long for a mischievous niffler to escape. The odd-looking creature soon manages to break into a nearby bank vault where it proceeds to indulge its insatiable appetite for gold by stuffing coins into its pouch.

Newt, however, must get the money back to the vault before its disappearance arouses the suspicions of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). She’s the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group of no-majs, (aka muggles — meaning ordinary human beings), that is dedicated to the extermination of wizards and witches.

Unfortunately, Newt whips out his wand in order to recapture the naughty niffler in the presence of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an affable Everyman who is applying for a loan to open his own bakery. Unfortunately, since Jacob has just observed the use of magic, wizardry protocol requires that the Everyman’s memory must be wiped clean on the spot.

However, Jacob manages to flee before being “obliviated,” and he inadvertently takes Newt’s bag of creatures with him. As luck would have it, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) — a comely witch who is a member of the Magical Congress of the United States of America — comes to Newt’s rescue.

Thus unfolds Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a visually captivating adaptation of the J.K. Rowling bestseller of the same name. Even though the book was alluded to in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you don’t need to be familiar with the Harry Potter books or films in order to appreciate this delightful fantasy, that apparently will have five episodes.

Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) delivers a fresh and endearing vulnerability as the picture’s bashful protagonist. And he is ably assisted by a stellar supporting cast composed of A-list actors and an array of endearing computer-generated creatures.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for fantasy action and violence. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.