A BAGFUL of Dolittle, a cauldron’s-worth of Potter and a spoonful of Poppins add up to a heady festive brew as JK Rowling returns to the world of wizardry.
Eddie Redmayne is Newt Scamander, a charming, slightly eccentric English naturalist whose innocent-looking briefcase makes the TARDIS look like a shoebox and hides no shortage of surprises.
Newt only wants to return one of his rescued companions to the wild in the plains of Arizona, but some of his pesky critters keep escaping and wreaking havoc before he even gets through New York.
One early sequence in a bank brings us spectacular special effects and comedy as an elusive kleptomaniac platypus (I never thought I’d write that phrase) goes on the loose and Newt’s destiny becomes messily entangled with that of aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
Panicked Magical Congress investigator Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) - a sort-of magical FBI agent - hauls Newt in for threatening the secrecy of a magical world already paranoid about being exposed. Jacob is a “No-Maj” (non-magical person), you see.
But Goldstein’s bosses - among them Colin Farrell's scowling agency chief - have bigger fish to fry, namely an unseen force wreaking havoc through the city, ripping up streets and leaving a media mogul’s son very publicly dead.
Newt, meanwhile, has fantastic beasts to recapture, armed only with his wand, his wits and the odd comical mating dance.
Redmayne is the film’s focal point and shines as the geeky, engaging naturalist with a neat line in thrills and spills, while Folger’s earnest everyman echoes the audience’s combination of amusement, bafflement and enchantment.
1920s New York looks great, trams and Model Ts rattling past as onlookers sport flapper ‘dos and trilbys, while the setting gives plenty of scope of sweeping skyline shots and the Magical Congress is jaw-droppingly huge while distinctively Potter-esque.
But the film stands and falls by the beasts of its title, and there is nothing to fear on that score.
Magical creatures have a special place in the Rowling canon, having formed many of the Potter series’ best loved characters, and the author clearly had plenty of ideas left over.
We meet at least a dozen new species, each brilliantly realised by the effects team and interacting seamlessly with the human cast.
Director David Yates has Potter previous, so he's familiar with this world, and does a decent job of juggling several plots strands and finding room for humour, romance and a decent dollop of horror (which I’d suggest makes it a bit too grown-up for very little children).
But the pacing and characterisation is somewhat uneven, with some segments feeling rather rushed while others drift a bit and some intriguing characters given little more than fleeting screen time to shine.
Fantastic Beasts... is maybe not as magical as the Potter series, and Newt is a little too dispassionate to really root for, but as spin-offs, go it could be a lot worse.
Not quite fantastic, then, but enchanting in its own way.