Eddie Redmayne (centre) heads up an all-star cast

If there were any concerns over whether JK Rowling would succeed in expanding the “wizarding” world outside of her much-beloved (and commercially bulletproof) Harry Potter series, this year’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, will comfortably lay those fears to rest.
Despite an overlong run-time for what is ostensibly a kid’s movie, this prequel, directed by Potter franchise regular David Yates, kicks the door wide open for a brand new franchise and has a wonderful, riotously good time doing it.
Set 70 years before the original series, Fantastic Beasts migrates the action to prohibition-era New York City with a surprisingly current thematic commentary, despite its fantastical subject.
Eddie Redmayne, whose awkward charm has rarely been this endearing, plays Newt Scamander.
As a “magizoologist,” Newt spends his time travelling the world saving magical creatures from extinction.
After arriving in New York, one of his “fantastic beasts” incites a rather chaotic incident involving a human, Jacob (Dan Fogler).
Consequently, Newt finds himself in the custody of former “Magical Congress of the United States” agent, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).
Fortunately for us, further magical chaos ensues when Newt’s suitcase full of beasts is misplaced, its contents escaping and reeking havoc on the city.
Meanwhile, darker forces trouble both the wizarding and ‘No-Maj’ worlds – Newt, Tina and Jacob get caught up in the middle.
The story, written by Rowling, maintains all the whimsical fantasy of her original series, but underlines everything with some fairly heavy subtext; the differences between the British and American wizarding worlds go beyond common lexicon (Muggle/No-Maj).
In the States, the divide between these worlds is far more volatile, allowing Rowling to craft a narrative around themes of intolerance, bigotry and social divides, with witch-hunting fanatics standing in for lobbying religious groups – contemporary subjects indeed, given the current political state of the US.
Rowling and Yates don’t probe too far into these issues – understandably so, for a family-friendly adventure – and devote most of the two-and-a-quarter hour run-time to madcap chases through the urban jungle of New York City.
These theme-park style experiments in 3D break absorption, but are a delight to behold.
Fantastic Beasts’ huge cast packs a couple surprise and it’s great to see Fogler make the leap out the realm of the character actor and into the commercial mainstream.
Sure, there’s the odd fat-joke, but Fogler is given plenty to do and heaps of narrative weight to carry. Hopefully this will secure a few more high-profile roles for the actor.
While Colin Farrell spends most of the plot brooding as Director of Magical Security Percival Graves, Samantha Morton menaces as the sinister leader of wizard-hating cultists, the “Second Salemers”.
The real stars here, perhaps, are those behind the wonderful creature design, although the more humanoid characters could have benefited from some experimentation in the recent resurgence of practical effects.
While it occasionally suffers from its lengthy run-time, an overabundance of admittedly necessary exposition and a somewhat incoherent narrative threat, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is enormous fun: a smart, fast-paced fantasy adventure and a wonderful beginning to Rowling’s new franchise.
Verdict: 8/10