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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Nov 24, 2016

Fantastic Beasts Movie Review: A New Franchise That Wonderfully Combines Comedy, Suspense And Fantasy

INTENDED TO be a new franchise of five movies, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a spin off from Harry Potter, the boy wizard whose exploits spawned eight box office hits. JK Rowling of the Potter books now writes the screenplay herself with her very fertile imagination. This origin story is meant to be a prequel and is now set in New York in the mid-1920s, focusing on nerdy, autistic looking British magizoologist Newt Scanderman (Eddie Redmayne), a shy student expelled from Potter’s Hogwarts School who arrives in America via Ellis Island.

He carries an old briefcase that puts Mary Poppins amazing carpet bag to shame as it turns out to be a secret portal to another dimension which is inhabited by his menagerie of fantastic beasts. When some of these creatures escape, he searches for them in New York. He finds help in a fat Muggle or No-Maj, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who also owns a briefcase similar to Newt’s. Following them around is Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, who reminds us of Amy Adams), a former investigator who worked with the Magical Congress of the U.S.A. (MACUSA) who wants to get back her job and apprehends Newt for the illegal entry of magical creatures. She has a mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol, a real charmer). They try to protect Newt’s creatures from Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the Director of Magical Security who is harboring some secrets up his sleeve with his cohort, the disturbed teenager, Credence (Ezra Miller.)

The fantastic beasts created to fill in the title include a giant entity called Erumpent which is a hybrid between a hippo and an elephant and currently in heat looking for a partner, a huge winged Thunderbird that can expand “to fill all the space”, an animal called Niffler that looks like a cross between a possum and a duck that eats gold coins and jewelry, a twig-like creature called Pickle the Bowtruckle that looks like a small Groot from “Guardians of the Universe”, and an invisible thing that proves to be very elusive.

Tracking them down offers the most entertaining sequences in the movie, going to town with eye-popping special effects. It takes Newt all over New York City, including the Central Park Zoo and the subway. Just like the Harry Potter series, “Fantastic Beasts” transports us to an alternate universe where magic and fantasy co-exist with reality. Directed by David Yates (who made four Harry Potter flicks), “Fantastic Beasts” offers superlative production design that wonderfully recreates the Big Apple before the Depression era and during the Jazz Age, obviously based on old photos and movies of that era.

Redmayne (Oscar winner for “Theory of Everything”) is perfectly cast as the clumsy oddball but likeable Newt, redeeming himself after his embarrassing performance as the villain in “Jupiter Ascending”. He’s well supported by Katherine Waterston (“Inherent Vice”) as Tina and it’s obvious their romance will be further developed in subsequent sequels. Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol as Jacob and Queenie also both great great support as the sidekicks.

Also fine in their respective roles are Colin Farrell as the glowering security head who transforms into someone else (a bigger star who’s obviously the villain in the next movie), Ron Perlman as a shady goblin named Gnarlack and Samantha Morton as the proselytizing Mary Lou who is against young children becoming exposed to the world of magic. Don’t ask too many questions. Just sit back like our grandchildren did and enjoy the ride as it wonderfully combines comedy, suspense and fantasy.