Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A very pleasant surprise. Netflix's guess was that I would like it. I was dubious, because it seemed like a too-obvious effort to squeeze some more dollars out of Harry Potter's fan club. But—ha!—it turned out to be a movie with an interesting story, sympathetic characters, a daft sense of humor, and imaginative visuals. Go figure.

Of course, it's the first of five projected movies. Those could be worse. We'll see.

It's set in the Harry Potter universe, but in the 1920's and in New York City. Our hero, Newt Scaramander, arrives from England with a case full of magical animals, and promptly loses control of one of them—a cute little guy, who loves to filch shiny objects: coins, jewelry, etc.. Newt's efforts to retrieve the little dickens causes a certain amount of hilarious mayhem; he attracts the attention of the American magical community, and also acquires a non-magical sidekick, Jacob Kowalski, an agreeable schlub who has dreams of opening a bakery.

Unfortunately, Newt gets tangled up in the conflict between the American magical bureaucracy (MACUSA), a disgraced magical investigator, an evil wizard (pre-Voldemort), and a know-nothing "New Salem" church group, looking to burn the witches. Uh-oh!

Especially good was Dan Fogler, the guy playing Jacob. Deserved an Oscar, he did.