I am generally ambivalent about Harry Potter. However, as my wife is a fan of the books I have seen all the films and even been on the studio tour (which was actually quite fun). I haven’t read the books, and can’t say I intend to.
I didn’t mind the films of the book series. They were watchable at least, and got better as they went along. Still, I wouldn’t watch them again (willingly, though my wife might make me).
When ‘Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them’ came along, I can’t say I was tripping over myself to go and see it, but it was, alas, inevitable.
I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised. You can tell this instalment in the ‘Potter’ universe was written to be a film, rather than an adaptation, and for the casual viewer like me, it benefits greatly. I found it more accessible, engaging and entertaining that the book-based series, and it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
As the title suggests, the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ themselves are packed with personality that is well rendered and realised on the screen. The cheeky little devils get up to all sorts of mischief and mayhem, sometimes with giggle-worthy results. They are definitely the stars of the show here when it comes to chuckles, though the supporting cast play their part.
I must admit, for a family film, it didn’t pull it’s punches when it came to emotional impact. Behind the cutesy beast premise, there is a lethal darkness. I can imagine a lot of adults had to have conversations about life and death after going to watch this film. As I remember, the Harry Potter films also weren’t afraid to massacre a few darlings here and there. In a strange way, it is quite refreshing that this isn’t dumbed down, and gives the film an edge it otherwise wouldn’t have had.
I’m making allowances here on the presumption that if you’re watching this film you are aware that it is set in a world where wizards live in parallel with normal humans and go to schools with such names as ‘Hogwarts’, and call none-magic people ‘Muggles’, right? If not, and that’s a bit much for you, you may readjust this score accordingly. I still found the romance sub-plots and dialogue well pitched and underplayed, even within these expansive parameters.
This is a fun film, with a self-contained premise that quickly draws you in and gives you a lot to ‘get behind’ in terms of the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ and the general fun of chasing around and capturing magical monsters (someone should make some kind of game where you can do that on your phone…). The action sequences benefit from the panoply of magical animal quirks that need to be overcome, and alongside it, there is a deeper, darker threat that needs extinguishing. This all leads to an agreeable way to spend a couple of hours of your viewing life.
I’ve mentioned the darkness in this film already, and for kids, I expect it may border on ‘behind the sofa’ scary in places, so I’m giving it a couple of points as the fear-factor is a crucial part of what makes this not just a silly film about invisible sloths and pick-pocket platypus things.
Bonus Category: + 1 Going it alone
It would be easy to accuse J.K Rowling of ‘cashing in’ on the Potter franchise with this film. It has a loose link to a slim, charity ‘booklet’ she once wrote (with the same name), that was meant to be a handbook written by the main character of this film. But I’m told that the film itself is totally original from this, and not a stretched-out adaptation. Also, I’m told, there is enough of the Potter back-story in this to make this cannon with the wider universe.
All in all, I think what Rowling has shown here is that she can write films, too, and not just books that get made into them. This could, in theory, lead to a long and prosperous franchise.
(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)
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