‘Fantastic Beasts’ ages with its audience

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‘Fantastic Beasts’ ages with its audience

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander in J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the story of wizarding mayhem in New York City. 

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander in J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the story of wizarding mayhem in New York City. 

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander in J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the story of wizarding mayhem in New York City. 

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander in J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the story of wizarding mayhem in New York City. 

DANIEL ANDERSON | Evergreen movie columnist

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For many young adults, the “Harry Potter” phenomenon was an integral and joyous part of our lives, from adolescence to awkward growing up and into adulthood. The series built a world that resonated well with a multitude of audiences because, over the course of its ten-year run, it evolved and matured alongside the people that invested in what it had to offer.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” does not hesitate to depart from the youthful vibes of its predecessor. It is as if J.K. Rowling, in her screenwriting debut for the film, very intentionally wrote for the present-aged audience that has stood by her since the beginning. It delivers on the premise of finding different magical creatures and enchanting audiences, but it struggles somewhat to find its identity and place in Rowling’s transitional phase.

Eddie Redmayne stars as the protagonist Newt Scamander, a well-mannered, well-meaning, shy and curious Hogwarts alumnus visiting New York City. He wants to explore what magical creatures may be lurking in the depths of the metropolis, but hijinks ensue when he gets his magical briefcase mixed up with comedic relief and regular human, Jake Kowalski’s own. (Dan Fogler).

Newt and Jake must then embark on a Pokemon-esque quest around the city to round up any creatures that escaped from the magical suitcase before they cause any harm. While those points sound jovial and a nice deviation from the tired and heavy-chosen one trope of many movies, there is a greater maturity with the overall focuses and tones of the story.

The emphasis is less so on an adventure and action epic and more on unpacking and creating a whole new world for fans. The difficult thing about that notion is the franchise altogether being reliant on childish goodness as well as trying to appeal to adults and older sensibilities.

Tender and bumbling moments of Newt and his whimsy animals are disjointedly sequenced with overarching plot points of wizards versus humans, an incompetent bureaucracy, a sly and devilish magical officer (Colin Farrell) and lore building.

As charming as Redmayne was, Rowling put more of her imagination to the bigger picture of the film’s true role: to serve as a vantage point for expanding the history and universe of the “Harry Potter” franchise.

There isn’t much backstory at all given to Newt, but hints to future stories were well-cemented. With the name dropping of an American wizarding school, an infamous villain reveal and a never-ending bag of ideas from Rowling, there is a lot to look forward to within the next four sequels.

It also does a stellar job in illustrating greater complexity. It is a film slowly coming to grips with a greater adult world in its storylines and goes beyond just blatant merchandising material. It’s just a matter of executing those storylines in a sharper framework in the future.

It is just a shame there wasn’t as much given to the characters of this kickoff story. While the acting was superb and many characters played a diverse scope of emotions, and the visual cues were what is expected of four-time “Harry Potter” director David Yates, some of them felt underutilized and underappreciated.

Ex-magical investigator, Porpentina Goldstein, delightfully played by Katherine Waterston and her quirky, mind-reading, flapper-styled sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) made welcomed additions to stand alongside Newt as he tries to locate his pets and not be taken into magical custody.

Other characters like the anti-magic protestor Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), who takes in orphans only to abuse them or have them serve her propaganda, was merely used as a plot device.

The most rewarding aspect of the movie isn’t the adorable and awe-inspiring CGI magical animals, but rather magic as a whole. What people know as “Harry Potter” does take on a darker and more-aged edge, and time will tell whether that pays off or not, but Rowling has indeed left her signature in the soul of the movie.

As beloved as Harry, Ron, Hermione and everyone else were in the original iterations of the franchise, Rowling has fully embraced that her creation is so much more than them. She isn’t just writing anecdotes on the Pottermore website anymore, she has given in to an obligation that her fans want and deserve more.

And as wonky as some of the film was, it turns back time to a pre-Voldemort and Harry Potter slate. There is so much to discover with the “Harry Potter” mythos, and it is no surprise it will take several more movies to dive deeper than ever before. With “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” hitting a reset button, the possibilities are endless.

And that just might be the most fantastic thing of all.