As soon as the twinkly score starts up and the Warner Brothers logo appears on screen for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” you’re transported back to that familiar magical world spun by the books of J.K. Rowling. But it’s not too familiar — there isn’t a butterbeer or an owl in sight. “Fantastic Beasts” is “Harry Potter” with adults, with the added pizzazz of 1926 Jazz Age New York to spice up the style.
Our hero is a tousle-haired, stoop-shouldered ginger from the fair isle of Britain, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). He arrives in New York the way many immigrants did, through Ellis Island. He smuggles through customs a battered suitcase that growls, hisses and rattles. Those would be the fantastic beasts with which the film is concerned — they’re outlawed in the U.S. magical world, which is kept secret from the No-Majs (aka Muggles).
Newt is a gentle soul who believes in the power and good of all creatures treated with respect and love. He’s in New York only a few minutes before he happens upon an anti-witch doomsday cult and loses several of his beasts. The roundup of the animals allows for Newt to convince Magical Congress auror Tina (Katherine Waterston) of the creatures’ usefulness just in time to battle a monstrous and deadly force wreaking havoc on the cobblestone streets, threatening the wizards’ cover.
Director David Yates spins darkly gorgeous, equally divine and grotesque images imbued with Prohibition Era flapper glamour. The film is a marvel to behold.
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“Fantastic Beasts” plunges us into this magical world populated by actual grown-ups — gangsters, babes and bakers — and this extra edge of sexy urban grime proves to be an intoxicating addition to the Potterverse. You’ll immediately crave more.
Redmayne is bashfully charming as Newt, a shy man more comfortable around creatures than humans. He’s balanced by Dan Fogler as Kowalski, his jovial No-Maj pal, Waterston as the Hepburn-esque gal with moxie, and the ethereal Alison Sudol as Queenie.
“Fantastic Beasts” is transporting, but its themes are far from escapist. It’s a film about immigrants who might seem foreign, but who just might save us from ourselves. It’s about the power of whispering rather than shouting; tenderness and love erasing violence and terror. It’s about embracing one’s unique qualities in order to hone them into talent and skill. Newt Scamander is the hero we need right now, and Rowling is the storyteller we need now more than ever.
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’
Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence. 2:13. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.