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‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ Review: The ‘Harry Potter’ Prequel Is One of the Best Blockbusters of the Year

With the richest fictional world this side of “Star Wars,” the “Harry Potter” universe is one the great achievements in modern popular culture. And now, J.K. Rowling’s prequel, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” shows that her universe expands handily. Taking a step back from the pressure to continue the existing storyline, she dips into its past for a smart, engaging prequel that deepens the “Potter” saga while pushing it in a fresh direction.

A gothic “Men in Black” set in 1920s-era New York, “Fantastic Beasts” scales back the dense set of events that defined “Harry Potter” movies and focuses on a narrower strata of magical circumstances in the middle of a human society. “Potter” stalwart David Yates conjures a visually sumptuous environment, and Rowling introduces a terrific central character in Newt Scamander (Eddie Redymayne, ideal for the geeky part), an animal conservationist who protects magical beings that

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