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Movie Review

When the slightly rumpled and ruffled Newt Scamander first steps into the customs line in New York City, most of the other people there don't pay him much notice. After all, he looks like any other proper English tourist with a battered traveling bag in hand.

Surely, no one would guess that Newt is a Magizoologist: someone who rescues and protects exotic, mystical creatures that might otherwise go extinct in the dangerous world of humans. And they wouldn't have a clue that his leather satchel actually holds an entire zoo's worth of phenomenal beasties—including a mischevious, duck-billed Niffler; an invisible monkey-like Demiguise; even a dragon or two. And the main reason for that is because, well, they have no idea that such magical stuff exists.

In fact, there are witches and wizards everywhere in this 1920s Big Apple. But they usually stay well out of sight. And the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) wants to keep it that way. Humans, you see, are easily frightened when faced with such otherworldly things. And a scared human, or a "No-Maj,"as the witches like to call them in this part of the world, is a human that may very well attack.

Here's the problem: Newt's magical, fantastical creatures have a disconcerting tendency to slip out of that wonderous bag of his. And when a series of fumbles results in Newt accidentally exchanging bags with a hapless human named Jacob Kowalski, and when that No-Maj unknowingly opens said bag, well, mayhem ensues.

That's especially problematic for the MACUSA, because it's already been dealing with other magical matters. Something powerful, evil, and very, very dangerous is occasionally ripping it's way through the city streets. It's been randomly demolishing buildings, tumbling cars like matchboxes. It even reportedly caused one human's death.

Some have whispered that this entity is none other that an Obscurus, a relentless, wicked force unleashed when a wizard or witch is prevented from using his or her abilities. Then again, that sort of destructive power hasn't been unleashed in centuries, so few believe that it's true.

In any case, the MACUSA members are all on edge over just the possibility that something of that magnitude could be present. And Newt's free-running beasts simply add to the mess. So he's hauled before the Congress and admonished severely. If something isn't done soon to control all that's going on, it could result in a war between the witch and wizard community … and all of mankind.

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Positive Elements

When Newt first gets into town, he's spotted by a witch named Porpentina Goldstein—Tina for short—and she hauls him before the MACUSA. Eventually, though, they become good friends and work diligently to solve the city's magical creature conundrums. The No-Maj Jacob and Tina's sis, Queenie, join in the effort, and all four ultimately put their safety on the line to deal with the malevolent magical force marauding through Manhattan.

Spiritual Content

This pic is played as a fantasy prequel set in the same world as the Harry Potter stories. But this tale definitely centers on the use of light and dark magic. Accordingly, it involving spells, incantations and wands. In fact, without all that good and evil magic, there really wouldn't be a story.

Wands are used to shoot blasts of energy at others, to throw people around and to dematerialize. Witches and wizards also use their powers to reconstruct demolished buildings and wipe human memories of certain events. People are frozen and have their memories forcibly pulled out via a wand wave. The world inside Newt's suitcase is open and vast.

A young girl who's part of an anti-witch group of humans, the New Salem Philanthropic Society, sings a nursery rhyme that features lyrics about witches burning and dying. Someone is given a magical symbol to wear around his neck. An evil wizard warlord named Gellert Grindelwald is said to be in hiding somewhere, plotting massive destruction.

The Obscurus itself is a massive magical force that swirls about in a destructive, black-tinged cloud that occasionally sprouts glowing eyes. The deadly magic is also used as something of a real-world social allegory, stating that horrific things happen when someone is forced to be something other than what they were born to be.

Sexual Content

When we first meet Tina's pretty sister, Queenie, she's doing laundry dressed in a slip and stockings. We also find out that she can read minds. She tells a flustered Jacob, "Don't worry, honey. Most guys think what you're thinking, first time they see me." Queenie also reveals some cleavage in her outfits.

Violent Content

The Obscurus tears up streets, smashes buildings, throws vehicles around and sweeps groups of gun-wielding policemen aside like leaves in the wind. In a couple of instances, it grabs people and slams them to the ground, killing them and leaving their faces covered in scar-like symbols. A group of wizards fight it with repeated blasts from their wands. In another scene, a magical blast appears to vaporize several men.

We see a boy's torn hands after he is whipped with a belt (offscreen). A magical creature bites Jacob on the neck, leaving a raw-looking wound. A liquid-like substance eats away at metal and threatens to dissolve someone before she is whisked away to safety. Newt pummels a pair of wizards with blows from his wand. Jacob punches someone in the face.

A gigantic dragon-like creature threatens to gobble up someone. Police shoot rifles and pistols into a swirling force.

Crude or Profane Language

Several uses each of "h---, "jeez" and "bugger."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Newt puts an herb-like balm on the bite on Jacob's neck. He also uses a creature's diluted venom to wipe the memories of a large group of people. When going to an underground wizard club, Jacob joins other patrons in drinking some alcoholic brews. Queenie orders shots of something called "gigglewater."

Other Negative Elements

A creature called a Niffler steals jewelry, as well as gold and silver coins. An important city figure labels a group of people "freaks." Newt reports that a certain creature's venom might result in a bite victim shooting "flames out of his anus."

Conclusion

As fans of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and movies know, a text called Fantastic Beasts was required reading for Harry and his first-year mates when they were studying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That makes this pic—and a reported four more to follow—a prequel series to the big-screen Potter franchise that wrapped up five years ago.

And that, of course, begs this question: Do you need to be a stalwart Potterite to understand what's going on in this magi-fied version of circa 1920s New York City? While that background knowledge might be helpful, the answer is not really.

The story tosses myriad magical monsters, magical characters and many magical story threads up on the screen—so much so that it's tough to keep track of it all at first. But it soon becomes evident that Newt Scamander is the new franchise's primary protagonist. He's a quirky fellow, played deftly by Eddie Redmayne, almost like a talking, spellcasting version of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp.

With his grip full of exotic critters in tow and a couple entertaining sorts by his side, Newt leads us on a fantastic, wand-waving tale that emphasizes the joys of friendship and the need for acceptance of those who are not like us.

Of course, discerning parents will most likely also want to know just how sooty dark all that wand-waving and magic-casting gets. The answer to that query is a bit more wavering.

While there are no bubbling-cauldron spells or wraith-like dementors this go around, there is a mysterious and darkly powerful entity that rips up city streets and kills several people with thumping abandon. And there are other moments of wizardly pain and peril scattered throughout this pic as well.

Though much of this movie's magicking is framed in shy grins, sparkling wands and an enchanted suitcase zoo-full of exotic beasties, it nonetheless revolves around Harry Potter-style witchcraft. There's no getting around that. And that fact alone is enough to warrant some intentional parental consideration before packing the kids in the car and trekking off to the multiplex.

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Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Profanity/Violence

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