Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review: a full-on Christmas blockbuster that's bursting with imagination

Melissa York
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Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a one-man WETMA
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

No more, JK Rowling vowed as the Harry Potter series – her magnum opus that took 17 years to write – finally came to an end.

And she’s largely kept her word, apart from the studio tour, the theme park and the play that’s currently in the West End. Oh, and a website she runs that’s literally called Pottermore.

But there’s still an insatiable appetite for tales from the Potterverse, which is perhaps why she’s been persuaded to embark on her first screenplay, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The twee title appears in the novels as a required reading textbook at Hogwarts, a compendium of magical creatures, that Rowling published in aid of Comic Relief back in 2001. To all intents and purposes, this is the story behind the textbook, bringing its author, Newt Scamander, to life in the adorkable form of Eddie Redmayne.

Scamander’s an eccentric magi-zoologist who travels the globe rescuing magical creatures in distress, like a one-man WETMA (Wizard for the Ethical Treatment of Magical Animals). When he’s not battling them into his magically-enhanced suitcase, he’s chewing people’s ears off about how bloody lovely they are, which doesn’t go down well in 1920s New York.

He quickly learns that all magical creatures are banned because Americans are intolerant, awful people, an accusation that recent news has done little to dispel. America also has backwards marriage laws between wizards and muggles (non-wizards).

Such is the attention to detail, it’s impossible not to be sucked into Rowling’s universe anew, fraught as it is with scarily-relevant political tensions. There’s even a “Madam President”, which I imagine felt triumphant when it was written.

Redmayne soon finds some nice Yankees, though, and leads a fantastically likeable foursome to hunt down and defeat an invisible monster that’s tearing up the streets of NYC and threatening to expose the magical world. Rowling’s formidable imagination radiates through in the magical creatures, which are so well-conceived they manage to transcend their shaky special effects. Redmayne sweeps the viewer up in his awestruck discoveries, from mole-like bank-robbing Nifflers to neon-plumed birds that can expand or shrink to fit any space.

Potter always felt a bit like a nerdy adventure that got out of hand, whereas this instalment – the first of five – is much more like a traditional family action movie, with a strong ensemble cast, relentless set pieces and a charismatic lead performance.

The Harry Potter franchise is dead, long live Fantastic Beasts.

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