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Film Review: J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World is reborn in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Grade: A-

For many who had the privilege of reading J.K. Rowling’s magical “Harry Potter” series, or watching Harry Potter and his friends battle the notorious dark wizard Lord Voldemort on the big screen, the news that a new film inspired by a separate Rowling book was going to be made came as a pleasant surprise. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” offers up a refreshing take on Rowling’s Wizarding World and is much unlike the story of Harry Potter, including the story’s setting.

Rowling’s text of the same name is written as a copy of a textbook belonging to none other than Harry Potter himself, with handwritten notes and sketches to boot. Rowling details the behaviors, appearances, habits and many other aspects of magical creatures in the Wizarding World in the words of the fictitious author and British wizard Newt Scamander. The film inspiration details the adventures of Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) upon his arrival in New York City, where he is introduced to the magical community there. He gets friendly with other wizards and muggles under unfortunate circumstances, whom he will need to combat the powerful magical beasts and dark wizards that are seeking him out.

“Fantastic Beasts” fulfills the craving for a new magical fantasy film that has been five years in the making. Since the second part of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was released in 2011, fans of Harry Potter were curious whether there would ever be another film that elaborated on Rowling’s rich universe. It was not until “Fantastic Beasts’” announcement in 2013 that fans finally received an answer, but then they had to spend another three years dealing with the massive marketing campaign and hype to finally see the newest rendition of the magical world on the cinematic screen. Thankfully, it does not disappoint.

Director David Yates undoubtedly expected the success of the last two Harry Potter films (of which he also directed) to draw crowds to the premier of “Fantastic Beasts,” but the spin-off deserves credit for being a movie that was thorough, full of magic and a fantasy that was beyond what was shown in the Harry Potter series. In essence, it’s good by itself and that’s important for the first movie in a spin-off series. It’s heartwarming and genuine, like a familiar friend who’s finally made their way back home.

The thought of a reboot or a spin-off film series, or television series for that matter, is scary if you’re not a company like Marvel Studios, who practices the strategy with great success. The reason why spin-offs are worrisome is due to the commonly high expectations they must live up to and too many times spin-offs have failed in the wake of their predecessors (we all remember “Evan Almighty”). Unlike so many failures, “Fantastic Beasts” carries the success of the “Harry Potter” franchise into 2016 with the help of veteran director Yates and producer David Heyman. Since “Fantastic Beasts” was only inspired by Rowling’s aforementioned textbook, which only has 128 pages, it only made sense that she was brought on as the screenwriter, which was her first time in the role.

For the first time in any of Rowling’s films, there are a significant number of American actors, which makes for interesting chemistry among all of the characters. The film’s biggest acting success was the pick of Redmayne, who is noted for his role as Marius Pontmercy in the 2012 musical drama film “Les Misérables” and his role as Stephen Hawking in the 2014 biopic “The Theory of Everything,” which garnered him the Academy Award for Best Actor. His establishment in film prior to becoming a wizard in the Wizarding World is contradictory to Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed Harry Potter in all eight of the films. Radcliffe only made a couple of appearances in television and film prior to his casting in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

There’s no doubt that Warner Bros. partly used “Fantastic Beasts” to exploit the success of the Harry Potter franchise. The wave that the movies, books and even theme parks created is enormous and has so far contributed greatly to the initial box office success of “Fantastic Beasts.” By the time the sequel comes around, however, Newt Scamander will be a household name and should expect to see success carry over from a great first film

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