fantastic-beasts

Review by C.J. Bunce

There’s no such thing as a “sure thing.”  If there was, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–the big screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s spin-off novel from the Harry Potter series–would have been an easy success.  Released in the same month, a trailer  for Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson set YouTube viewer records.  Why?  Fans of Potter can’t get enough, they’ll never get enough, and that means anything related to Hogwarts is prime territory to exploit, including its actors.

So why should Fantastic Beasts work?  It’s a story written by Rowling.  It’s in the same universe as her past successes (or is it?).  It’s about fantasy beasts (or is it?).  Fantastic Beasts follows a Dr. Doolittle-inspired wizard named Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), who is in 1920s New York City hunting a new beast to protect for his unique version of a magical zoo.  He keeps these beasts in a suitcase, which is either bigger on the inside (sounds familiar?) or it somehow serves as a portal to a wider world where Scamander can protect the beasts from those that don’t fancy beastie types.  If the  beasts remained the focus of the story, a journey where we met several of these creatures and explored the awe and majesty of these brilliant creations from the visual effects artists, liked the klepto duck-billed platypus or the Groot-like Bowtruckle–or maybe actually explore where in the world to find them as the title says–Fantastic Beasts could have been what fans are looking for.  Unfortunately the story doesn’t know what it wants to be and instead gets bogged down in a dark and gloomy drama about a troubled, victimized orphan of the Anakin Skywalker variety.

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-queenie-and-kowalski

A glimmer of heart can be found in a hapless wannabe baker named Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, and a woman from the magical world named Queenie, played by Alison Sudol.  You could edit out every scene these two characters are not in and be left with a compelling story.  Their acting, the characterization, and chemistry is the stuff of a good romance movie.  Their performances are also the only strong ties in the film to a believable 1920s setting–both, with their accents and mannerisms, seem to fall out of a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood, despite art direction that never quite gives the feel we’re in the Roaring ’20s.

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