‘Fantastic Beasts’ develops ‘Harry Potter’ franchise

By Jesse Baalman

Author J. K. Rowling’s imaginative “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is fun and adventurous entertainment for Harry Potter fanatics and newcomers.

David Yates, director and helmer of the last four “Harry Potter” installments, successfully kicks off the first in a five film prequel franchise. The lively, well-drawn characters as well as the wizarding world, occupy and perform magic and create a story worth revisiting.

The film centers around Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, a wizard who arrives to New York in 1926 carrying a suitcase that holds some of the world’s oddest and innovative creatures. A small beast, who craves precious metals and gems, serves as one of the several comical running gags throughout the film as it gets Newt and his gang into mischief throughout the city.

A lot of sequels and remakes today have trouble justifying its reason to be made beyond the initial appeal to fans of the source material. However, this movie differs from that notion, at least by way of it having all-new characters and being set 70 years before the events of the first “Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone” movie.

Redmayne is a great leading man for Warner Brothers to have for its newest franchise. The wisely chosen cast also features Katherine Waterston, as Tina, another wizard who arrests Newt after witnessing the mayhem his creature caused when it escaped from the case it was inside. She then journeys with Newt, Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, and Queenie, played Alison Sudol, to save New York against a force that possesses children and has been connected to suspicious magical events throughout the city.

All the performances help draw viewers into this universe but Redmayne’s portrayal has a personable charm that makes the viewer care and connect to his story. He adds a significant amount of appeal to any film he is in, giving quietly ambitious performances as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” and a transgender woman in “The Danish Girl.”

What this film needed to succeed was good direction of a tale that brought wonder and excitement through a different world of lovable wizards. It mostly does just that with Yates telling Newt’s and beasts’ story with a playful palette of styles and imagery.

The beasts that push the story forward and the scenes they are in are all crafted to make for an intriguing visual. Rowling has given the world a story with fleshed out writing that makes its good-heartedness all the more enjoyable.

The characters are likable enough to find their place in what fans call the “Potter-verse,” and the intricate beasts add more heart to the experience than one may think. A scene at the end featuring Queenie and Kowalski is a reassuring and feel-good moment that officially welcomes a new clan of dreamers to the wondrous world of wizards and beasts.