You’re thinking it might be fun for the whole family to take in a movie. Good idea, as long as the movie isn’t “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The screenplay, set in 1920’s New York, was written by J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, and it stars sweet-faced Eddie Redmayne as wizard Newt Scamander and a whole zoo of, well, fantastic beasts. What could go wrong?
Great question. For starters, someone — Rowling, director David Yates — can’t decide what story they are telling. Is it the story of a wizard naturalist (Redmayne) who sets out save an ark full of magical creatures threatened with extinction, creatures which have mistakenly been set loose in the city? If so, that’s a story for kids of all ages. It’s delightful to watch these animals hatch and feed and fly. And the series of slapstick mishaps by which Scamander’s magic animal-filled suitcase gets switched with the identical case belonging to a distinctly No-Mag (that’s “muggle” in British Harry Potter-speak) baker, Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, is a tale that will resonate with most children and their parents.
Or is it “Carrie” for kids? For in this movie, set in a New York so gloomy and dark that it appears always to be night, the darkness reigns. There is a power-mad politician (who dies in a disturbingly graphic scene that only hints at the worse violence to come), played by Ronan Raferty, and a scary woman, Mary Lou Barebone, played by Samantha Morton, who runs an anti-wizard crusade called the New Salem Philanthropic Society and who will, by her cruelty, unleash destruction over the whole city. Lest you miss the connection between the NSPS and the Salem witch trials, the writer and director have taken plodding pains to make it for you. Barebone not only holds anti-wizard rallies and marches, she runs an orphanage/poorhouse/prison/ house of horrors for young boys and girls enlisted against their wills (and, sometimes, their natures) to be her disciples. That the NSPS is meant to be religious, and grimly so (is there any other kind?) is clear. What unfolds, horribly, through the course of the movie, is that one of the orphans, Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller, is, in fact, a wizard. He’s been raised to hate and fear his own nature, so much so that he becomes a kind of dead-eyed killing machine, a tornado of violence striking down anyone or anything in his path.
I saw the movie with three youngsters, the oldest, 13, the youngest, 6. The 6-year old was alternately bored (through the long scenes of trials and deliberations in the wizard headquarters) and terrified (through the loud and ugly parts, of which there were many.) Imagine “Carrie,” as written by J.K. Rowling and sold to us as a family film. Instead of Carrie turning into the horror for which her religious-nut mother has formed her, we get Credence and his cruel, religious-nut foster mother. Same theme, different billing. With “Carrie,” you know you’re in for blood and gore. With “Fantastic Beasts,” you think you’re in for the winged and beaked and flying creatures and you’re stuck, instead, with garden-variety psychopaths and their widescreen destruction.
– Melissa Musick