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A worthwhile return to the world of Harry Potter that tells a separate story set in 1920s New York City.
Is it worth $10 Yes
It’s been five years since audiences last got to visit J.K. Rowling’s cinematic Wizarding World, but unlike other properties with a semi-long hiatus, Potter Mania is just as strong as ever thanks to Theme Park expansions, Rowling-written essays posted to the website Pottermore, and the recently released eighth book “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
Now comes a whole new franchise set within the same universe, and it begins with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which is itself based on a small textbook published by Rowling for charity. This new franchise is set half a century before the events of the original Harry Potter films. Written by Rowling (her screenwriting debut) and assembled by much of the same team as the previous films, the film walks a fine line of being familiar yet entirely different, a necessity given that “Fantastic Beasts” is just the first in a five-film deal. Simply retreading old ground would not be worthwhile, but distancing itself from the Potter fan base would also prove to be a major marketing challenge.
The characters are also fairly flat considering how well-developed even supporting characters were in the original films. This can possibly be attributed to the fact that the original films were preceded by over 4000 pages of details while this new five-film franchise is based on one single book that is just over 100 pages. That is not a lot of source material, so time would need to be taken to develop the characters to something other than one-note players with hidden pasts. It is clear the filmmakers are relying on the follow-up films to more fully develop Newt, Jacob, and the Goldstein sisters. This is a format that works well for a Netflix-type release schedule where all parts are released simultaneously, but for movies that are released at least two years apart, it is a bit of a ploy to keep audiences invested in the follow-up films just to learn more about why the two-dimensional characters are the way they are. That said, the cast plays their parts incredibly well. Fogler is a hoot as the bumbling No-Maj and Colin Farrell brings a mysterious intensity to his antagonist that is riveting to watch. Waterson likewise plays Tina with an air of sad mystery.
Overall, the film was an enjoyable return to the wizarding world. It serves as a good launching point for new viewers with its new storyline and characters and an enticing treat for existing fans who will comb through the film looking for any connections to the stories they already know (there are plenty). That said, the next film will need to delve deeper into the characters and find a way to make the fantastic creatures relevant to the plot in order to justify drawing the thin storyline into five movies. It successfully plants the seeds for the new franchise but somewhat struggles as a standalone film. Ultimately, though, there is enough here, including the strong performances and connective tissue, to warrant a trip back to the wizarding world.
Josh Walbert is an entertainment guru with a passion for film and television. He lives south of Orlando, FL, with his girlfriend, and relatively extensive DVD/Blu-Ray collection.