Much like three “Hobbit” films that came after “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” feels like a way to keep the cash flow going after the “Harry Potter” series nobly and properly came to an end.
And yet, also like the “Hobbit” films, this new movie, while slight, is also dazzling, diverting and wonderful fun.
“Fantastic Beasts” is based somewhat on a humorous “textbook” of the same name, but it’s actually the first screenplay written by J.K. Rowling; she keeps the fictitious author of the textbook, Newt Scamander — mentioned in the “Harry Potter” series — as her hero, but otherwise, this adventure is new.
It’s the 1920s, and Newt (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City with a magical suitcase and a personal mission. Inside the suitcase are several amazing creatures. One, which resembles a duck-billed platypus, gets out inside a bank and wreaks havoc.
He receives the unwitting aid of a portly, good-hearted muggle, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who is applying for a loan to open a bakery.
But he’s also discovered by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a former Auror with the Magical Congress looking to win her job back with a big arrest.
Eventually Tina and Jacob, along with Tina’s mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), help round up several of Newt’s escaped creatures, including one that’s invisible.
Meanwhile, plenty of sinister-looking stuff unfolds in the margins. Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) searches for a special child with great, dark powers, a stern woman (Samantha Morton) is on a city-wide witch hunt, and a slightly shady newspaperman (Jon Voight) pushes his son into the political arena.
Director David Yates, of the final four “Harry Potter” films as well as this summer’s “The Legend of Tarzan,” is once again at the helm, forgoing his usual grayscale look in favor of a delightful palette of colors, shapes and textures.
When his camera isn’t swooping and the soundtrack isn’t roaring, which they do a wee bit too often, Yates stages wondrous moments of discovery, creating empathy for his monsters; they’re not just mindless destructors.
It definitely helps that Oscar-winner Redmayne gives another of his appealingly shy, eye-dropping performances. He doesn’t have Harry Potter’s universally satisfying character arc, but his Scamander is weirdly likable.
The 1920s setting also provides a much-needed innocence for the material; the modern world would have been too burned-out and cynical for these magical beasts.
On the whole, “Fantastic Beasts” isn’t quite as transporting as the “Harry Potter” series was, and its excessive running time grinds a bit, but it’s far from a monstrosity.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell
Written by J. K. Rowling
Directed by David Yates
Running time 2 hours, 13 minutes