FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM directed by David Yates (UK, 2016)
The spirit of Mary Poppins is not dead; it’s just been Marvellised. The bottomless bag this time around contains not household fixtures but numerous gremlin-like creatures.
The ‘beasts’ of the title are harmless if handled by a nerd but destructive in unscrupulous hands. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander plays up the role of an awkward Brit for all its worth to the point that he looks half retarded most of the time. The plot device of hooking him up with a ‘no-maj’ (American for muggle) in the portly shape of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) provides a welcome foil to his gormlessness.
JK Rowling further demonstrates her instinctive empathy with tormented adolescence through the invention of the ‘obscurus’, a black cloud of malevolence unleashed when children feel anger and discomfort. In addition, a literal witch hunt provides more of the requisite villainy but it is the anarchic antics of the beasts that steal the show.
Rowling and director David Yates borrow imagery and references from a wide variety of sources ranging from Oliver Twist to Men In Black. In so doing the Harry Potter franchise is successfully exported to pre-depression era America where it is somewhat disconcerting to see Jon Voigt playing a Trump style politician given this actor’s recent outspoken support for the incumbant ideologue.
There’s clearly much more where these beastly antics came from. Newt’s unrequited love for Tina (Katherine Waterston) can conveniently be carried over to the next installment in the proposed trilogy. We also await the role earmarked for Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelward who is, by all accounts, second only to Voldemort in his evilness. Depp makes the briefest of cameos near the end and clearly intends to put his gone-to-seed looks to logical use.
This is lively and intelligent entertainment, sophisticated escapism in a world where we sorely need to believe in magic. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the flattened buildings could be restored to their former state like the acts of terrorism in reverse we see depicted on-screen. This is just the kind of cinematic wish-fulfillment that wins over audiences who are all too willing to suspend their disbelief for a little over two hours.