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Raise a Wand for Fantastic Beasts

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When trailers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hit the screen, Harry Potter fans rejoiced, myself included. It’s been a couple years since wands, house elves, and glorious magic spells have been on the silver screen, so seeing a spin-off of the Harry Potter series caused a lot of commotion. But more than just Harry Potter fans flocked to theaters to see this film. Fantastic Beasts made $505 million at the global box office in it’s first week. I was one of many who contributed to this huge sum, and I must say I was happy to spend my money on this movie.

As a die-hard Potter fan, I’m ashamed to admit that I actually haven’t read the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, although I’ve read the Potter series multiple times. But because I haven’t read the book I can report the good news that you don’t have to have read the book to understand and enjoy the movie!

Director David Yates (who worked on the other Harry Potter movies) and writer J.K. Rowling do an amazing job of explaining the plot and magic terms that a non-reader wouldn’t know. Even if you haven’t had any involvement in the Harry Potter franchise at all, haven’t read the books and haven’t seen a single film, you’ll be able to follow the movie without confusion. Just for reference, I brought my 56 year-old “never-seen-harry-potter-star-trek-is-better” father, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. The production is similar to how the Harry Potter movies were made; the film’s creators kept in mind a broad audience. So there is no need to fret if you know nothing about Fantastic Beasts.

Based on the book by J.K. Rowling, the story takes place in 1920s New York, a change from the usual British setting in the Harry Potter movies. Newt Scamander, a British wizard who attended Hogwarts, is visiting New York in search of a breeder of a certain wizarding creature, a fantastic beast, if you will. Unaware of the strict “no magic” rules in New York, the movie shows the trials and tribulations of Newt and his new, American wizard friends. Actor Eddie Redmayne takes on the part of Scamander, creating an undeniably endearing character out of him. Shy and quiet, Redmayne does a great job of making Newt lovable. Katherine Waterston plays the part of Tina Goldstein, Newt’s new New Yorker friend who starts off as a rule-following, by-the-book wizard working for the Magical Congress of The United States of America, but ends up becoming his partner in crime in another great performance. Supporting characters Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol,) Tina’s flirty, younger, wizard sister, and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler,) a goofball human who gets unexpectedly sucked into the wizarding world provide comedic relief and often deliver the best lines in the movie. The whole cast really contributed to the positive feel of the movie, and I don’t have a single complaint about them.

The plot may be disappointing to Harry Potter fans who are expecting a more traditional Potter movie, but this is a spin-off after all, and I found the change of scenery to be refreshing. Be aware that this film is a little bit darker than previous Harry Potter movies and a little more grown up. Yes, there are fewer wand-duels and overall use of magic spells (which can be a little disheartening) but the introduction of abundant magical creatures supplies enough whimsical entertainment. Because the main character is a magic zoologist the whole movie revolves around Newt and his fantastic beasts rummaging the streets of New York City. It’s a new aspect of magic that we haven’t seen much of before and after eight Harry Potter movies it’s a welcomed change. Plus, people who aren’t super-hyped over exaggerated amounts of magic can see this movie and still have a pleasant time.

At two hours and 13 minutes, many have complained that the movie is too long. It’s understandable. Our attention spans have shortened because of the fast-paced lifestyle technology has brought us. But it is a necessary two hours and 13 minutes.

The film has a lot going on; magical creatures, a strict, “no-magic” city filled with wizards, and two groups fighting against the main character. So every minute of the movie is crucial. I know nothing is worse than a movie that is way longer than it needs to be, but Fantastic Beasts is not that. In my opinion, the time flies by and at the end of the movie you’ll be wishing for more. I literally waited until the very end of the film’s rolling credits with hopes for an after-credits scene. So please don’t feel daunted by the length of the movie because it will just whizz by.

Immersing yourself in the world of J.K. Rowling is always an entertaining experience, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them proves this yet again. Combining humans and magical creatures, darkness and delightfulness, and American and British wizardry has never looked so good. Despite being lengthy and more grown-up, this movie is worth a watch. This holiday season be sure to unwind and take a break from reality with a plunge into another whimsical universe — and let Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them do that for you.

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