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Arts & Culture

'Fantastic Beasts' Makes Potter Fans Happy

Edie Redmayne as Newt Scamander and a beast called a Thunderbird in the new fantasy adventure "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."
Warner Brothers
Edie Redmayne as Newt Scamander and a beast called a Thunderbird in the new fantasy adventure "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."

Companion viewing

"Oliver Twist" (1948) for British orphanages

"Harry Potter" film series (2001-2011), especially the last four, which were also directed by David Yates

"The Chronicles of Narnia" (2005) for more magical beasts

"Pan's Labyrinth" (2006) for the darker themes of abuse and war in a world also filled with magical beasts

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which opens Nov. 18, takes us to a new realm of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World set decades before Harry Potter and half a world away. KPBS News video journalist Katie Schoolov and her friend Allyson Crockett, fans of the "Harry Potter" films, give us this guest film review.

It's been more than five years since the final installment of the "Harry Potter" films came out, and for big fans of the wizarding world like us, we've been starved for new content. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" fed the need, and then some.

The story takes place within the same magical universe that Harry Potter lives in, but in an entirely different dimension. The characters, the time in history and even the country are entirely new — and rather independent — from the other Potter films. The previous eight movies were such blockbuster hits that it was hard to believe this one would even compare. But after getting this first peek into the new world, we're more than eager to see the other four movies in the works.

An added bonus of the independent world of "Fantastic Beasts": Even non-Potter fans won't have trouble getting immersed in the story. There's no need to even know who Harry Potter. But Potterheads, need not panic: There are plenty of nods to our favorite "Boy Who Lived." There's a Deathly Hallows necklace given as a gift (or is it?). House elves are alive and well. Gellert Grindelwald — the infamous wizard who Albus Dumbledore once battled — makes an important appearance. There's mention of a character with the last name Lestrange. And don't miss the Quidditch puns near the beginning. (Hint: seekers and catchers!)

The movie opens with a look at headlines from the year 1926.

Our favorite: "Could soccer be a muggle adaptation of Quidditch?!" Then it quickly turns dark — from a murderous scene to a cinematically stunning shot of a ship bringing foreign travelers past the Statue of Liberty. Among them is our new protagonist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with a suitcase full of — you guessed it — Fantastic Beasts. As to where to find them? Several escape early in the storyline, and let's just say the plot thickens from there. Think a lovable muggle (called a "No-Maj" in America) and the Magical Congress of the United States of America.

'Fantastic Beasts' Trailer

The amount of adventure that takes place in the real world is a major departure from the previous Potter films. Almost all the action takes place in the streets of New York (or underneath them), rather than primarily in Hogwarts or North America's Ilvermorny School.

Something else surprising and new for the Harry Potter franchise: the amount of laughter throughout the theater. Adults and kids all cracked up at the same moments — and there were many of them. Not an easy feat for such a family-friendly film.

Performances by the lovable muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger) and main character Newt were particularly endearing, and comical. The Fantastic Beasts themselves are also filled with personality, from the adorable to terrifying. The cute factor alone should be enough to sell lots of plush toys.

But if you're waiting for a book, be warned: The only thing you'll find is a "textbook" of magical creatures, written by J.K. Rowling, as if Newt had written it.

From stunningly beautiful cinematography to wildly imaginative computer graphics, director David Yates (who also directed the last four Potter films) did a great job of breathing life into J.K. Rowling's newest world and the Fantastic Beasts that inhabit it.

We can't wait to see where they'll take us in part two of the five-part series of "Fantastic Beasts" movies.

"Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them" is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.