It was a magical day indeed when I found my review copy of the DVD/Blu-ray Combo Pack of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them waiting in my mail. Regrettably, I missed the opportunity of seeing this when it was still in theaters and that just wouldn’t do for any Harry Potter fan worth their grain in salt. While at first it was a bit jarring to be reemerged into the Wizarding World without the likes of Harry Potter, Hermione or the Weasleys, it didn’t take long for me to warm up to the new characters being introduced, especially Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).
While I’m far from being the world’s foremost expert on Doctor Who, it didn’t seem to be a coincidence that Redmayne was channeling his inner Matt Smith in preparation for the lead role. Not only was he dressed similarly (bow tie and all), but some of his mannerisms also seemed eerily similar. I guess when one stops to think about it, the Doctor bends space through the use of his trusty TARDIS, which is more than meets the eye, and Scamander bends space through the use of his trusty suitcase, which is able to provide adequate habitats for a variety of fantastic beasts.
What I loved most about the film besides Redmayne’s endearing performance was the setting – 1920s New York City in the heyday of the Jazz Age, resplendent with flappers, Prohibition, speakeasies and all. That’s such a fascinating, glittery piece of American history, and I think J.K. Rowling chose wisely when she decided upon that as the setting of this story which pre-dates the Harry Potter franchise. The script was inspired by one of Harry’s familiar Hogwarts textbooks – “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” written by Newt Scamander. It was a stroke of brilliance to turn this textbook title into a tale about one wizard’s quest to educate his fellow witches and wizards about the importance of conserving magical animal life and treating them with the same dignity and respect afforded to each other.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them expands upon our knowledge of magical creatures, as we’re introduced to the likes of bowtruckles, demiguises, erumpents, nifflers, occamy and thunderbirds. Scamander seems to have a natural way with all creatures great and small, a quality and talent I’d contend he was probably born with. It takes a special kind of person to have the kind of discipline and patience required to care for such fantastic beasts and to persevere in the Wizarding World that chooses to ignore or fear many such beasts out of general ignorance or apathy. (For all their magical advances, wizards really aren’t that much ahead of their human counterparts after all.)
Also starring Katherine Waterston as Tina, Dan Fogler as Jacob, Alison Sudol as Queenie, Colin Farrell as Percival Graves, Jon Voight as Henry Shaw, Samantha Morton as Mary Lou Barebone, Ezra Miller as Credence and Carmen Ejogo as Seraphina Picquery, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was directed by David Yates, who also directed the last four Harry Potter films. So if it looks congruous to the rest of the Harry Potter cinemascope, that’s why.
The basic premise of the film is Scamander’s trip to the United States to catch and release more fantastic beasts not native to England. While in New York, he becomes inadvertently caught up in the rising tensions between the wizarding community and the No-Majs (leave it to Americans to come up with this term for those who don’t practice magic instead of the much cooler sounding Muggles). Thanks to having identical suitcases, No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) accidentally releases some of Scamander’s creatures and he must help Scamander recapture them before they wreak too much havoc upon the unsuspecting city. The two men are aided by sisters Tina (Waterston) and Queenie (Sudol), who develop rather complicated romantic interests in them somewhere along the way. Besides these rising tensions, there are also mysterious dark forces underfoot that have even the wizarding community perplexed. The film beautifully paves the way for another franchise if the producers see fit – I know I want to know more about the American version of Hogwarts, as well as more about Scamander’s travels.
While I’m not impressed by the bonus materials found on most Blu-rays, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them offers a bevy of bonuses that are almost as fantastic as the film itself. Included are 11 deleted scenes (my favorite being the one in which Tina and Queenie demonstrate their magical alma mater), interviews with the cast and crew and several fascinating featurettes about the characters, creatures and design. There’s also a featurette titled “Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!” to satiate your burning curiosity about the story’s concept. I couldn’t have asked for more!
Whether you’re among the lucky Muggles who saw the film in the theater last year or not, you owe it to yourself to check out the bonus materials. They helped me keep track of all the new creatures and appreciate what each had to offer, as well as shed some insights into the main characters and what made them tick. And the breathtaking design featurettes allowed me to acknowledge just how much work went in behind the scenes creating all of those elaborate, awe-inspiring set pieces and authentically Roaring ‘20s costumes.
I think the two most interesting tidbits I learned from the bonus material was how they were able to animate the actors portraying the house elves (including Ron Perlman) so the mannerisms matched up perfectly to each actor’s performance and the fact that they actually created a continuous circular set with all the various habitats contained within it so the actors could relate more to that particular magical scene that was the pinnacle of the film: when we first step inside Scamander’s suitcase. Fewer scenes have ever been as wondrously imaginative and allowed me to fall in love with a character as awkwardly adorable as Scamander. But this is one journey you’re just going to have to take for yourself.