FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Although the box-office enjoyed by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was less than the Harry Potter films (relatively speaking), it is actually one of the better films in the series. The Harry Potter films established a single location Hogwarts, inspired by the British boarding school environment and stayed there, seldom venturing beyond its walls for all eight films. The downside of this was that the look of the series was established in the first film and the rest of the films only became progressively darker in their lighting levels. By contrast, David Yates and J.K. Rowling take the opportunity to broaden the canvas of the action. Firstly so in taking the series to New York and also by backdating the show to the 1920s. Thus the locations are not the dour environs of a school but in the streets, buildings, even speakeasies of the Jazz Age, which considerably opens the film up visually. As he showed in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) earlier in the year, one of David Yates strengths is a lavish eye for period detail and surroundings if nothing else, New York of the era looks gorgeous on the eye.
The other advantage that Fantastic Beasts has is that the film is written for the screen. Technically it is based on Rowlings book but the entire plot of the film is one that she has made up for the film. The Harry Potter films had the disadvantage of being adapted from her books, which became increasingly bloated and more complicated as they went on. The downside of this when it came to the films was that the on-screen stories often felt packed to the brim or else trimmed supporting characters back to little more than cameos. In being written directly as a film, Fantastic Beasts feels much more naturally like it belongs there. The characters have room to breathe, the action is written in a way that offers plenty of room for David Yates to open up with visual set-pieces.
This brings us to the other delight of Fantastic Beasts the magic creatures. Various of these especially the Niffler and its habit of stealing every valuable it can get its paws on, or the attempts to recapture a pregnant creature amok at the New York zoo are not only superbly well directed scenes but the creatures are highly charming in their own right. The films real sense of wonder moment is the journey that Eddie Redmayne takes Dan Fogle on down through the various compartments of the suitcase and meetings with the various creatures in their habitats. The supplementary magical scenes also have an extraordinary calibre of effects too one of the most charming being where Alison Sudol magically creates a strudel in front of a dumbfounded Dan Fogle.
The other delight of Fantastic Beasts is the cast. One has gotten used to Harry, Ron, Hermione et al over the course of the other films who grew on one in much the same way that the leads in an ongoing tv series do. This shakes everything up for one, we are dealing with a group of adult characters rather than adolescents/teens. Eddie Redmayne, a strong and acclaimed name in recent years, is relatively subdued in what is essentially a Hugh Grant performance, stammering and blushing his way through his scenes. Katharine Waterston, the daughter of Sam Waterston, is fairly colourless opposite him. Nevertheless, you could see them growing into their roles over the course of successive films. Much of the show is stolen by Dan Fogle who largely has the role of a decent ordinary everyman and being required to react in wonderment to everything he sees. Quirkily appealing is the romance that suddenly sparkles between he and Alison Sudol, better known under her stage-performing name as the singer A Fine Frenzy, who delivers everything with a breathless flutter. The quartet merge together well and you could easily welcome this group back together at the centre of a series of successive adventures.
(Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Dan Fogle), Best Special Effects and Best Production Design at this sites Best of 2016 Awards).