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Breathing new life into the Potterverse

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The magical Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (12a)
Running time2hr 13mins
Rating: ****

THE prospect of a return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter will have alarmed many, and not without reason – a new project, five years after Deathly Hallows, was faced from the get-go with the fiendishly difficult task of striking a balance between fan nostalgia and trying something genuinely new. In this respect, Fantastic Beasts is nothing short of a miracle, a fresh, totally original vision that, nevertheless, expertly channels the magic of its predecessors.

Every Potter film was an artistic landmark, with vast creative teams being let loose behind the scenes, in the conjuring of whole cinematic dreamscapes; this movie, with its 1920s setting, has provided designers a particularly unique opportunity. Jazz Age New York is evoked in all its smoky, seedy glory, the world of muggle guys and dolls meshing gorgeously with that of the wizards and the house-elves. The formidable cast (a franchise this big has virtually unlimited choice where its key players are concerned) is as delightfully eccentric as the world around them. Eddie Redmayne was the ideal pick for Newt Scamander, a ‘magizoologist’ and Hogwarts graduate adrift in a foreign land. His is a classic, redheaded English awkwardness, with half his dialogue delivered to the ground; his presence, above all,
is what binds this fish-out-of-water tale to the wider Potterverse, in spirit as much as character detail.

The story is a comedy of errors spun wildly out of control. Upon docking in the Big Apple, Newt finds himself reluctantly enlisted by Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a plucky witch-cop, in a magical whodunit that threatens to bring down the US wizarding community. Without wishing to spoil the plot, some criticism must be levelled against the execution here – Newt’s lighthearted monster-mash (he must recapture the escaped beasts he has covertly smuggled into the US) does not quite gel with the darker saga at the heart of the film, much as the gloominess of the later Potter movies made for an occasionally difficult swallow alongside liberal helpings of quidditch and schoolyard hijinks.

But this is unlikely to put off even the uninitiated, and it really shouldn’t – Fantastic Beasts is a very accessible slice of family fantasy, and it has more than enough colour and wonder to offset the rougher patches of storytelling.
Dan Fogler shines in a terrific comic role as a struggling baker roped into Newt’s shenanigans; he’s every bit as clearly lost as Redmayne, and the two’s chemistry makes for wonderful viewing. It’s great to see Colin Farrell in a picture this high-profile as Percival Graves, a wizarding Mr Big, the sober yang to Newt’s bumbling yin. Johnny Depp,
meanwhile, plays a very important, very brief part (blink and you’ll miss him), setting the stage for a new series of films.

This isn’t a direct book adaptation, and should, hence, appeal to people who weren’t necessarily sold on JK Rowling’s universe the first time round. It marks a very bold, successful break with the Potter franchise, laying the foundations for something big and loveable in its own right.

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