Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sends us back into the Wizarding World that was introduced to readers in 1997, and cinema goers in 2001. Inspired by the book published under the same title, but with little to do with it outside of the fact both heavily feature magical creatures. The published book was done for charity and is mostly made up to look like Harry Potter’s real school book and gives descriptions and histories of magical creatures; some pages include scribbled notes from Harry and Ron as if they had written them while sitting in class. The film, however, focuses on the author of that book, Newt Scamander and the time shortly before his book is published while he is in New York City in 1926.
Newt Scamander is a mysterious quiet loner. He arrives in New York City with nothing but his case full of (illegal) magical creatures, but upon bumping into a muggle — or a no-maj as we learn the Americans call their non-magic counterparts– and losing a niffler — a small, cute rat-like looking creature that hunts down and steals anything shiny — and then misplacing his case with that of the no-maj, Jacob, Newt is soon in a world of trouble.
Newts characteristics don’t allow for much growth or any of the audience attachment that we had with any of the original trios of Harry Potter characters. Where some may have found Hermione a bit of a grump and annoying originally, she still had that characteristic. Newt is so seldom and appears lost in thought so often that even by the film’s end, I barely felt I got to know the guy. Eddie Redmayne does play the part well and does embody the nature of Newt. In one scene he attempts to lure one of his escaped beasts with a sort of mating dance or ritual, and it was the first time I felt I was seeing Newt for what he is, or what he would be equivalent in the human world: the kinda crazy cat lady who is happy to live with her pets and human, normal human, social engagement is not at all necessary.
The rest of the cast is great though and it often felt like Newt was simply a conduit for me to be introduced to these other characters. Katherine Waterston’s Tina has the biggest actual character growth or arc, and she often felt like the star of the movie. A demoted Auror, Tina is simply looking for a way back into the fold and to prove herself, and sees bringing in the person who let loose a bunch of magical creatures one way to go about that.