It is a classic problem for someone who has created a cult following with a series of fantasy novels and then very successful films—- How do you top that? So authors do not try, and some change the subject. J.K. Rowling decided to tell a collateral and related story to the Harry Potter stories, about a man named Newt Scamander, once expelled from Hogwarts but one of Dumbledore’s favorites. Smartly, while the story is still set in a mythological world of wizards doing battle for good or ill, that will be familiar to Potter-heads, Rowling sets this story in a very different venue, not Europe but New York in 1926. And she even risks confusion by calling muggles no-mags (as in no magic), changing the vocabulary wizards use on either side of the Atlantic. Naturally, there is one gigantic big bad dude in the film, played by Colin Farrell, the sinister Mr. Graves. There are also abusive religious fanatics of a sort wanting the banning of all witches etc. But be of good cheer the story is not all dark. There is plenty of humor in the 132 minutes of the film, and some very sweet scenes between Newt and his beloved creatures. But why has Newt come to America with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts? The answer only emerges gradually— hint, cue the song from another film— “Set it Free’.
The cast in this film is just excellent, and Eddie Redmayne is just perfect in the role of Newt, indeed he is adorable. Almost equally enjoyable is no mag Jacob Kowalski played to the hilt by Dan Fogler who becomes Newt’s accomplice, or partner in fun. And their female counterparts, the Goldstein girls (one of whom is played by Sam Waterston’s daughter) are equally excellent.
The CG, if you are wondering, is so magical it is finally worth the extra bucks to see it in XD. I loved this film, it is fine for children who are not small and easily frightened. And of course, the film is already successful enough that there will surely be a sequel. It is clear that Rowling is in charge of this new franchise, as she both wrote the script and was the executive producer. We may expect more of this sort of thing in the future. There is always a danger when too large a portion of a film is CG that the human element disappears in a phantasmagoric kaleidiscope of images, and effects. One never gets that impression with this film– the blending of the real with the CG is rather seamless. This film certainly makes my top five of the year in all genres.