Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler
Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence
2 hrs. 13 mins.

After seven Harry Potter books and eight movies, are we really ready for more J.K. Rowling? With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the answer is . . . yes. And this time the adults get to have some fun.

Fantastic Beasts is not just a Harry Potter prequel and the name of the book that inspired Potter. It’s an introduction to a whole new world of magic. New characters, new terminology, new witches and wizards, a whole order of magic authority that will require multiple viewings and a lot of online study. It’s complicated, sophisticated and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Still, it’s worth it.

So more than a review, this is a short primer of 20th century magic. Hang onto your hats. This will literally fly by.

It’s 1926 and Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has traveled the world gathering strange beasts inside a beat-up suitcase (actually a magical game preserve) in hopes of educating wizards about the need to protect them.

On a layover in New York, Scamander sits on a bench next to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a cannery employee who dreams of opening his own bakery. Kowalski and Scamander have similar looking briefcases, and in a classic mix-up, Kowalski accidentally takes Scamander’s briefcase and lets loose his menagerie of animals. Once the error is discovered, Scamander must chase them down and put them all back in his briefcase.

Scamander is unaware that he is being observed by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a disgraced employee of the Magical Congress of the U.S.A. (MACUSA). When she notices his magical abilities, she arrests him and hauls him before MACUSA magistrates.

Meantime, there’s an evil force that’s chewing up whole sections of New York. MACUSA, a secret society of witches and wizards, is being threatened with exposure by this power as well as a fanatical group in the city known as Second Salemers. The director of magical security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), thinks that Newt and Tina are somehow involved with the destruction.

So the dilemma: How do Newt and company find his animals while investigating the identity of this destructive power? And how do they all connect? It’s a labyrinthian plot, but Rowling keeps the strands moving forward, and the ending will surprise you.

Veteran Harry Potter director David Yates has been called in to launch this series, and his subtle touches, combined with Rowling’s wit and keen sense of drama, serve the movie well. There is a powerful sense of imagination and a love of the magic that seems to shine through.

Rowling in particular is enjoying being back in her element. Magic and the world she has invented seem to inspire her. For instance, consider her animals with peculiar names like nundus, nifflers, erumpents, thunderbirds. Though the Harry Potter settings have changed, Rowling’s imagination has only blossomed.

This film, however, rests squarely on the shoulders of Academy Award-winning actor Eddie Redmayne, whose off-kilter face, mischievous eyes and messy red hair give him a Huck Finn appeal. Redmayne delights as the shy and awkward wizard whose skills are hidden beneath his crooked smile.

Fogler as Kowalski is the epitome of a great wing man, adding a very human touch to the story’s magical elements. Also of note is Alison Sudol, Tina’s sister Queenie, who serves as a legilimens (mind reader) and Kowalski’s love interest. Her bright personality lights up the screen and turns Kowalski’s heart to butter.

I’ve barely skimmed the surface here. If this sounds packed with plot, don’t be put off. Within the parameters of the story, it works, well, magically.

When the Harry Potter books and movies were released, I enjoyed some of it and was glad the kids had fun. Now, lo and behold, I’m the adult enjoying the magic. Thanks, J.K., for giving grownups our own fantastic world.