By Alison Perelman, Assistant Culture Editor
After 13 years filled with books and movies, our Harry Potter generation was forced to go five more before the thrill of new material. Of course, I was overjoyed — I may have cried seeing the trailer. But I was also worried about returning to the wizarding world. Would it (could it) ever be the same?
But the wait was worth it, and I wasn’t disappointed. After four successful Harry Potter films, director David Yates has conjured up magic once again with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Based on the “textbook” by J.K. Rowling, the film follows writer and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures. His good intentions go awry when a run-in with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a non-wizard, accidentally sets the creatures loose in the city. Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) — employees for the Magical Congress of the United States of America — help Newt collect the creatures.
But unrest in the government complicates their journey. There are disputes among the wizarding community about magical exposure to the “No-Majs” (America’s equivalent of “muggles”). And Graves (Colin Farrell), a top auror (a member of an elite unit of highly-trained specialist officers), works secretly with local foster-child Credence (Ezra Miller) to find a potentially dangerous force of energy.
We are introduced to the intricate workings of the wizarding world in America during the 1920s and drawn in by never-before-read, and therefore unpredictable, material. All the while, the sweeping cinematography and special effects leave us in wonderment of the new spells and creatures.
The action-filled, spell-packed sequences move the film along, as darker undertones — such as the dark wizard Grindelwald’s takeover — hold promise for storylines to come.
There’s a satisfying hint of longing and romance between Queenie and Kowalski, and eventually Tina and Newt, but not too much to distract from the real issues.
Per usual for J.K. Rowling, the conflicts in the story mirror real-life issues in politics and society with fears of the “other” and the unknown.
But besides the familiar format and references to make any fan smile, “Fantastic Beasts” is able to separate itself from the original series.
Much like Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” the score takes 20s-style jazz to fit the time period and mixes it with something we can recognize — melodies from the “Harry Potter” film scores, most notably the theme.
The costuming also does a great job of depicting 20s-style hair, hats, dresses and suits with the touch of unique wizard flare.
Adding to his versatile career of beloved roles, Redmayne is perfect in his portrayal of Newt. He has brave curiosity and endless knowledge but emits an adorable shyness with the duck of his head and one-sided smirk.
Redmayne’s acting abilities aren’t the only ones to note. Farrell and Miller produce mystery and skepticism until the very end. Waterston is easy to both hate and love as a Hermione Granger-like, rule-abiding, bossy know-it-all. Sudol is witty and delightfully charming. And Fogler wonderfully discovers the magical world along with the audience.
“Fantastic Beasts” does fail slightly in character development. We come to know and understand Kowalski but only gets glimpses of the other three main characters. At least there will be four more films to, hopefully, fill in the gaps.
The film leaves a few questions to be answered and storylines to be illuminated, and I can’t wait to see how they play out.
But for now, I’m content — sitting in the still-dark theater, watching the credits scroll with a slight smile on my face as I think to myself, the magic is back.