By Kyle G. King. Fifteen years ago, the world got its cinematic introduction to the boy who lived. Though its charms were always aimed at a child’s sense of wonder, as the years (and installments) went by, the themes of the Harry Potter series matured alongside young audiences who found themselves growing in lockstep with the characters of J.K. Rowling’s world. Potter’s very loyal fandom has since expanded into an audience of all ages, and to that wide swath of followers comes Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. But will they like it?

Initially written as a playful textbook with its proceeds going to charity, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them by Newt Scamander was a “nonfictional” zoology-like inventory of magical creatures. (“This beast does this and if you poke this you’ll get a magical that…” I’m paraphrasing.) The skinny tome satisfied a public desperate to spend a little more time in Rowling’s Potterverse. With its adaptation Rowling makes her screenwriting debut, as David Yates (responsible for the last four Potter movies) returns with his directors wand at the ready.

It’s 1926, and Mr. Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, graceful as ever) arrives in New York city with his Whovian long coat, mop of tussled hair, and a curious, medium-sized suitcase. As he navigates the wild trappings of Yates’ impressively realized Big Apple, his luggage turns out to not only be full of an entire zoo of wizardry beasts, it’s also extremely vulnerable to opening on its own, releasing its magical properties onto an unsuspecting no-maj populace. (Re: The American version of “muggle.”)

Newt scrambles alongside demoted wizard cop Auror Tina (a meek but determined Katherine Waterston), her mind-reading sister Queenie (singer-songwriter Alison Sudol) and a no-maj prospective baker (Dan Fogler, as the films plucky comedy relief). All are eager to know exactly where to find Newt’s loosed fantastic beasts, primarily so they can keep these creatures from exposing their secret society of witchcraft and wizardry to the world.

Image: Warner Bros Pictures

Image: Warner Bros Pictures

There’s a palpable energy here, though the film, which is meant to launch an extended franchise of its own, spends a bit too much time reminding us of its primary function. In the process, certain things begin to suffer: Newt’s arrival to the States seems rather incidental, and the inhabitants of 1920’s New York are a common, and entirely familiar, populace. (Think a sepia-toned Coppola feature but robbed entirely of its nuance.)

That’s a peculiar thing, in large part because its cast is clearly having fun with the material, but the ambitious world-building creates a discord with all of its purported giddiness. A dark subplot regarding oppressed and abused magical children suffocates the playfulness of Newt’s story, which causes the film to frequently flop back and forth in tone. There are at heart two separate worlds here, with two very different things to say. And this discord goes on for so long that when they finally merge, it’s hard to recognize the looming threat.

The adults in previous Potter films had more footing underneath them. Even if they were struggling with turning into werewolves (or whatever), they were people, a clear anchor for all these wild hormonal kids to latch onto. Children are and have always been synonymous with magic and wonder, and the stoic grownups around them contextualized (and humanized) Rowling’s magical world with real emotion. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them realizes the power of this relationship far too late. The film never really decides which age bracket is most important to appeal to. Or represent.

Directed by David Yates.

Produced by David Heyman, J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, and Lionel Wigram.

Written by J. K. Rowling.

Based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling.

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, and Colin Farrell.

Rated PG-13 because wizarding ain’t just for kids.

6.5 out of 10