In 1926, an English researcher of magical creatures, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), travels to New York City with a suitcase full of totally weird animals. David Yates’ fantasy tale was penned by J.K. Rowling, and is based on an ancillary “textbook” she wrote after the conclusion of her Harry Potter saga. Once in NYC, Scamander attracts the attention of Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who works at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MAGUSA). He also mixes up his suitcase with that of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), a “no-maj” (non-magical person) who just wants to open a bakery. The creatures get loose; Scamander gets a helping of paczki; and everything has to be sorted out. (Plus, some other entity is magically destroying parts of the city.) Kowalski joins forces with Scamander, and he acts as our proxy as we learn more about this other hidden magical world (the MAGUSA HQ is accessed through the Woolworth Building).
The film has moments of great charm, but it does get bogged down chasing several tales: a NatGeo-type special exploring such weird creatures as the nifler and the encrumpet; the world-building of the American wizarding world; an assortment of ill-defined outside forces, such as an anti-wizard group and a newspaper/politician set-up; a couple of nascent love stories; various CGI-intensive chase scenes because 3-D; and some treacherous, traitorous goings-on with a top wizard (Colin Farrell). Needless to say, there are future chapters to come, but it shouldn’t feel this bumpy flying back into such a familiar alternate universe. In 3-D, in select theaters