Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

 

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There’s very little magic – and way too much CGI – in this Harry Potter spin-off.

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Eddie Redmayne and a duck-billed platypus thingy

   

One can understand Warner Brothers’ enthusiasm for embracing another strand of the Harry Potter universe. However, Eddie Redmayne’s gormless Newt Scamander is no Harry Potter and Colin Farrell’s insipid Percival Graves is no Voldemort. Of course, there’s plenty of magic, but the CGI is ladled on with such abandon that there’s little room for anything else.

 

Adapting her own 2001 novel to the big screen (in her screenwriting debut), J.K. Rowling whisks us back to 1926 where an English magizoologist arrives in New York with an interesting suitcase. To the inattentive eye, the case looks pretty much like any other but beneath its flimsy clasps lie an enormous collection of exotic and mischievous creatures that Newt has picked up on his travels. And when the old switched suitcase routine is played out, a portly factory worker (the engaging Dan Fogler) unleashes a Pandora’s pandemic. It’s unfortunate that the similarly themed Jack Black caper Goosebumps (2015) came out this year, which itself recalled the 1995 Robin Williams vehicle Jumanji (now being remade with Jack Black). And so poor old New York is pummelled by all kinds of fantastic beasts, with Newt Scamander in hot pursuit, along with sundry other characters, both human and magical.

 

The earlier scenes exhibit enormous promise and the computer effects produce magnificent period vistas of the Big Apple, but once the ‘magic’ is out of the bag, so to speak, the magic stops there. Eddie Redmayne himself is stuck in one gear and not only lacks any sparkle but mumbles his words, so that when he says ‘Credence’ it comes out as ‘Crins.’

 

It’s a lugubrious, endless affair in which the lion’s share of the creative effort has gone into the creatures rather than towards any human interest. While the singer-songwriter Alison Sudol is good value as a big-hearted mind-reader, a raft of top-rate actors is largely wasted. The creatures themselves, which seem to be a pick’n’mix of Nature’s own menagerie, prove to be a mixed bag. In fact, you’d find more magic in a single episode of anything narrated by David Attenborough.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Ron Perlman, Josh Cowdery, Ronan Raftery, Johnny Depp, Gemma Chan, Dan Hedaya.

 

Dir David Yates, Pro David Heyman, J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves and Lionel Wigram, Screenplay J.K. Rowling, Ph Philippe Rousselot, Pro Des Stuart Craig, Ed Mark Day, Music James Newton Howard, Costumes Colleen Atwood.

 

Heyday Films-Warner Brothers.

132 mins. USA/UK. 2016. Rel: 18 November 2016. Cert. 12A.