David Yates’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is coming on Friday to save Warner Bros. from a terrible year.
The Harry Potter-esque intro to a series of five J.K. Rowling films premiered Thursday night at Alice Tully Hall to a wildly enthusiastic crowd, then repaired to a big tent in the Central Park Zoo for lavish refreshments. Aside from the cast– Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Katherine Waterston– the only other celeb I really saw was comedian Jim Gaffigan with his kids.
There were a lot of kids at this premiere. And why not? Part of the movie reads like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” with extraordinary graphics and animation. The other part is aimed for a more adult crowd, so parents won’t get itchy and scratchy. J.K. Rowling’s adaptation of her own idea runs from tight to loose depending on how much Yates could rein in. But the overall movie is a big home run for everyone involved, starting with the studio.
Warner Bros. is having an iffy year, like a lot of studios except Disney with its Marvel movies. WB’s two DC Comics films– “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad” — did well, not great, and didn’t win over the fanboys. Other than those two, WB hasn’t had a stellar year with the exceptions of “Sully” and “Central Intelligence.” So the Rowling series is a gift from the heavens. “Harry Potter” was considered over. But now it’s back, with five stories as prequels to the first “Harry Potter” movie. Hallelujah!
The studio has been low balling expectations with an $80 million opening this coming weekend. I think $100 mil is more like it. “Fantastic Beasts” is simply fantastic. Everyone who sees it will want to see it again, immediately. Even when the plot wobbles, the overall tone is so charming, the actors so lovely, and the production so engaging that it doesn’t matter.
Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander– the nerd who comes to New York from Britain with a suitcase full of magical beasts– like a young Stephen Hawking. This works because Newt is an egghead who will need five films to emerge as a person. For now, he’s blinking a lot. At least he has his magic wand to help him out of jams. Katherine Waterston is fine as Tina, his female counterpart, who may or may not turn into a romantic partner.
But this first movie revolves around a more compelling couple– Newt’s new New York pal Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) and Tina’s sizzling sister Queenie (Sudol). Their little pas de deux is what drives the plot among the humans, and turns this pair into a hot commodity. Sudol is particularly a revelation– she’s 31, a singer from Los Angeles, this is her first film. I do think Queenie is going to be a huge character in the “FB” saga.
I wanted to talk to Rowling on Thursday night, but she refused even to say hello and stayed behind a well guarded barrier. Oh well, you can’t have everything. Eddie Redmayne was upbeat and open as usual. When I mentioned the rapport among the four leads he said, “I’m happy about that. They cast the movie like they were casting for a band.”
So let the band play on. And kudos to all the artists, designers and cinematographer Phillippe Rousselot. Also, I’m wild about the score from James Newton Howard. Many nominations to come….
PS Yes there is a cameo from Johnny Depp. Not sure why. Didn’t bother me, but on the other hand, he’s bad luck at this point.