What It's About: The whimsical visual effects extravaganza “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” marks a re-entry to the wizarding world introduced in the Harry Potter series. The movie opens Friday nationwide.
However, the fantasy is billed as a prequel, as it takes place 70 years before the gifted Potter lad stepped foot into Hogwarts, and there is only a mention of Albus Dumbledore.
Potter author J.K. Rowling, in her first screenplay, has adapted her 2001 book. David Yates, who directed the last four Potter films, is at the helm. They can spin an effective yarn.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard and “magizoologist” who takes care of exotic creatures. His hands are full while in New York City in 1926. Bizarre-looking animals, large and small, can't seem to stay in his suitcase.
Chaos escalates after American muggle and wannabe baker Jacob Kowalski grabs the wrong suitcase. The critters escape and wreak havoc in Manhattan.
The harried Scamander and the flummoxed Kowalski come in contact with some scary people like Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and good ones like Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Isabel Sudol) because a secret society of witches and wizards want to remain hidden.
An epic battle between good and evil ensues, but fans know it's not the end, only the beginning, for five films are planned for this franchise spin-off.
Performances: Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne has a nerdy charm as Newt, projecting the character's goodness and affinity for the 85 species like a Bowtruckle, Hippogriff and Glumberbumble.
Dan Fogler, who won a Tony as the colorful William Barfee in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," excels as Kowalski, and convincingly bonds with Newt and Queenie.
Some of the characters lack development at the expense of the visual effects, like Graves, Tina and Credence.
What Works: It's been five years since the last Harry Potter film, and these new adventures are much anticipated, so the material is treated reverently.
Philippe Rousselot, Oscar winner for "A River Runs Through It," makes Jazz Age New York City shimmer, enhanced by exquisite production design and art direction. Colleen Atwood's costumes, a team of make-up artists and the folks in charge of the creatures deserve much praise for their period details.
The look of the film is splendid, but those amazing creatures are quite special and unique.
Composer James Newton Howard has stamped his signature on the score.
What Doesn't Work: If you are not familiar with this universe, you might get a tad lost or not settle in right away.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
Stars: 3 out of 4
Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Ferrell, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, and Carmen Ejogo
Rated: PG-13 for some fantasy action violence