My first thought when I got up from my seat was : “I haven’t had so much fun at the cinema in ages”, my second was: “I enjoyed this film so much more than any of the eight Harry Potter ones” and my third: “Can’t wait for the sequels”.
The written-for-charity Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which as every potterhead knows, was written by Newt Scamander towards the end of his long career, Quidditch Through The Ages and later, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, were all welcome tasty extras to the stories that make up the Harry Potter canon, beloved by so many, me included. The idea of one of these extras being transposed to 1920s New York, thus featuring a young Newt Scamander’s adventures abroad, was instantly attractive to me: J. K. Rowling was going to be firmly in the driving seat, as she had written the screen play. I’ve bought it of course but not read it yet. It was clear to me that the film had to be seen first, as it was a new take on an existing work, not a straight adaptation of an existing one.
Put simply, I felt safe right from the opening scene. Safe in the sense that I knew that the story would stack up, that I was going to see a blend of familiar and new, that it would be visually stunning and wonderfully acted.
I’m not going to go into any plot detail at all, but will just highlight the virtuoso performance of Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol ,the actors playing respectively Kowalski and Queenie, all the others being merely excellent, the heartwarming coziness and intimacy captured in the domestic scenes, the perfectly portrayed magical sites and institutions, American/New York style, the constant small references only intelligible to “true” HP fans (“Your grandfather kept pigeons? Mine bred owls.”), the beautiful rendering of a post 1929 New York, this last being a very finely drawn setting for some pretty dark magic.
And I also want to make a point of mentioning the particularly lovely and poetic transparent umbrella created at the tip of a wand, which adds a beautifully delicate touch to the poignancy of one of the final scenes.
I realise that I haven’t mentioned the fantastic beasts yet; they are a marvel of CGI, some are gross, some are cute, most have comic potential. The niffler is the clear star, which is logical as it is clearly the magical equivalent to the muggles’ mole, and moles belong to the group of animals that are sympathetically portrayed and used heavily in adverts and other media, alongside hedgehogs, penguins and a few other species. The landscape we see the beasts in was my least favourite part of the film. This overtly fantastical environment is not to my taste; luckily the motley collection of creatures frequently escape into no-maj (muggle for us Brits) territory.
Newt Scamander deserves a few words here too. I had an argument with one of my daughters about that; sorry, but Eddie Redmayne’s Scamander is clearly more scientist – a field-based, beast-loving one, but a scientist nonetheless- than he is Hagrid, even though he was expelled from Hogwarts and he clearly cares for the objects of his study very devotedly. He is appropriately awkward with people but very clear on facts, causes and effects. A more recognisably human approach than Newt’s to getting out of the beast-induced scrapes can be found in the wonderful stooge character, Jacob Kowalski.
Just one word, people: “enjoy”.