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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Film Review

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J K Rowling's Fantastic Beasts: a prequel to Harry Potter
Some sixty years before Harry Potter was born, the famed Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl) arrived in New York with a case full of magical creatures, some of which escaped and wreaked havoc in an a city already on edge over a series of mysterious events.

This forms the plot of the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, adapted from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry textbook of the same name. J K Rowling, known for the Harry Potter series of novels wrote several companion books to the series, Fantastic Beasts among them. She also helped with the script for the film adaptation of this book. The protagonist of the film is Newt Scamander, a well-known British Magizoologist and subsequent author of the schoolbook Fantastic Beasts within the Harry Potter universe. Newt arrives in New York in 1926 after travelling around the world collecting different species of magical creatures in his magical trunk, which he will bring back to England for scientific research. A chance encounter with bumbling but good natured No-Maj (American term for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) results in Newt's magical trunk being taken by the latter, who inadvertently releases several creatures into the city. Newt is hauled into the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) by disgraced Auror Porpentina "Tina" Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).

New York has been hit by unexplained disturbances believed by MACUSA to be linked to the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean series). The Americans' Director of Magical Security Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) impounds Newt's case of creatures and condemns him to death, along with Tina and Jacob, but the trio are rescued by Tina's sister Queenie (Alison Sudol in her first major role), who excels in Legillimency. The four then go on the run and successfully recapture the escaped magical creatures, while also discovering the real source of the terror that has been stalking the city.

It is refreshing to have a Harry Potter film set in a different era, as well as a different country. Director David Yates, a veteran of several films in the series, has managed to deliver yet again. The setting is fairly realistic, capturing the spirit of the times. Queenie projects an image of a 1920s flapper, while Jacob provides quite a bit of comic relief. Sudol's dreamy voice does bring back fond memories of Evanna Lynch's portrayal of Luna Lovegood. This is a contrast to Waterston's serious image as Tina. Carmen Ejogo (Selma) brings to mind a voodoo priestess in her portrayal of MACUSA president Seraphina Picquery, a stark contrast to the stuffy politicians that British Ministers of Magic resemble. The overall narrative is fluid, something expected from a seasoned writer like Rowling.

Fantastic Beasts also incorporates themes from the real world, such as bigotry. When Newt arrives in New York, there have been several mysterious occurrences linked to dark magic, and a fanatical group of Muggles known as the New Salem Philanthropic Society is hell-bent on exposing witches, whom they believe are responsible. Their actions have eerie parallels to those of the anti-Donald Trump protesters during the recently-concluded American presidential election campaign. Percival Graves also questions who the International Statute of Secrecy is meant to protect, which brings to mind the purpose of segregation laws. Like our world, that of Harry Potter is also split down the middle into "Us" and "Them", in-groups and out-groups. As always, art imitates life.

This film is recommended for fans of 1920s American flicks and Harry Potter aficionados alike. A sequel featuring Grindelwald as the main character is currently planned for 2018.

Rating: 8/10

Director: David Yates

Based on: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J K Rowling

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Johnny Depp

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