“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them”

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a combination of Harry Potter and Doctor Who in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” He’s also one of the coolest on-screen protagonists this year.

“Fantastic Beasts” takes place in 1926 and is a spin-off of the “Harry Potter” franchise. Scamander, an eccentric British magician, arrives in New York with a large briefcase that contains several creatures. He accidentally unleashes them through the city and must capture all of them before humans (or no-maj’s) learn of magic.

The most impressive aspect of “Fantastic Beasts” is how it manages to be its own movie without relying heavily on “Harry Potter” references. Sure, Dumbledore and Hogwartz are both mentioned, but the characters aren’t winking at the audience. Director David Yates (“Harry Potter” 5-8) maintains his aesthetics and style from his “HP” installments.

Light is used effectively to heighten characters’ moods and tension throughout the movie.It also compliments the film’s expressionistic cinematography and magical effects. The action sequences are fun, but the best action moments are the slapstick chases between Scamander and a Niffler.

“Fantastic Beasts” suffers from some pacing and tone issues that could have been avoided with a few simple rewrites. There are one too many villains and subplots that take the movie in several directions. One minute, it’s a political thriller, then a gangster movie, then finally a social commentary on child abuse. These scenes were distracting from Scamander’s story.

Dan Fogler takes a restrained turn as Scamander’s sidekick, Jacob Kawalski. He’s a funny and likable every-man, who feels he’s meant for something greater. He has some of the best scenes, but his story runs too long in the final act.

Redmayne and Fogler work well together and their characters are the best part. Scamander relates more to his creatures than other people while Jacob feels he’s meant for something greater. The duo’s chemistry and friendship help them overcome obstacles.

“Fantastic Beasts” is a fun movie. Much like last week’s “Arrival,” it’s another lighthearted movie with a positive message.

Grade: B+

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