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MOVIE REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Actor, Eddie Redmayne, in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Photo Courtesy of WB Actor, Eddie Redmayne, in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by J.K. Rowling, is a See It! or Rent It. I'll leave that up to you!

It is 1926; wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City from England pausing to hear a speech from a social movement leader ranting against witchcraft and wizardry. While focused on the speaker, one of the several magical creatures Newt has stored in his briefcase escapes. Just when Newt has recaptured the varmint, he has a chance encounter with a local resident Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who happens to have a case very similar to Newt's. The two accidently grab each other's bag.

Tina Goldstein (Alison Sudol), a witch who is on probation with MACUSA (The Magical Congress of the United States of America), arrests Newt for being an unregistered wizard and takes him to MACUSA, hoping to regain her status. But she warms to Newt and joins him in his search for his lost bag. This leads them on a journey of trying to get the bag, impress the MACUSA, helping Jacob with his goals, among resolving other issues.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is written by J.K. Rowling and is connected to the Harry Potter series. And, I never liked that series. Stories, about a group of British youth learning wizardry, were never very interesting to me. And this cast of characters is even less appealing than Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Fantastic Beasts' story is convoluted and takes more twist and turns than a drunk, cross-eyed mouse in a maze. The imagery is outstanding, but frankly, many of the creatures seem to be thrown in to meet viewer expectations, more so than truly fitting into the flow of the story.

Cast performances are adequate. However, some stood out. Colin Farrell as a wizard and Director of Magical Security for MACUSA was appropriately mysterious and vexing. Dan Fogler, as Jacob Kowalski, enriches the production with a strong performance as an average, decent guy who gets drawn into the world he never knew existed.

As to cast diversity, Fantastic Beasts gets a "C+". Members of the MACUSA are very diverse, including the president, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) who is "black" (Nigerian father, Scottish mother). This film fails in a way many period pieces do, by displaying U.S. urban areas without diverse populations.

Fantastic Beasts is set largely in Manhattan and not only did the many street scenes feature only white people, they were all very well dressed as if no lower income folks were allowed on thoroughfares.

In 1926, there were about 170,000 black people living in Manhattan alone and comprised about 10% of the New York City population and would have been much more visible than shown in this film. At that time black residents would have walked the public streets, to and from work, or shopping just like any other residents.

In fact, New York City's first black police officer, Samuel James Battle, had been sworn in some 15 years earlier in 1911.

Another flaw in period pieces is that they apply current day sensibilities to events which would have been non-issues at that time. Here, a mother beat her son and there was much sympathy for him and fanfare over that fact. Parents beating their children in the 1920s was not only acceptable – but expected - behavior.

The ultimate verdict for this film is Rent It, except if you are a Harry Potter fan, then I would say, "See It!"

Fantastic Beasts is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence and is 133 minutes in length.