It’s been five years since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, and, since then, the series has only grown in popularity. Ever since the first book was released in 1997, fans have always cherished the franchise for its compelling fantasy and escapist elements. Luckily, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the new Harry Potter spin-off, emerged at a time when audiences needed it most. Blending spectacular visuals and an imaginative plot, Fantastic Beasts provides an enchanting outlet for those craving a much needed distraction.

The film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a likable magizooligist who arrives in New York City with a suitcase brimming with magical creatures. Scamander has come to America to further study these beasts and write a manuscript, but his plans are immediately interrupted when he accidently swaps suitcases with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a “no-maj” (the American equivalent of “muggle”). When some of these creatures escape, pandemonium ensues when Newt and his team embark on an adventure to recapture them. Meanwhile, they must prevent the exposure of the wizarding community and dodge the Magical Congress of the United States, a shady governmental system that seems to be harboring dark secrets.

Visually, the film feels very familiar, and that’s because it’s directed by David Yates, a veteran to the Harry Potter franchise. His sharp newspaper cuts, swirling black tendrils and gothic flair are all viewed though a grey-tinted lens, creating the perfect setting for inconspicuous wizardry.

Still, it’s the creatures that truly make Fantastic Beasts an enjoyable movie-watching experience. The film features a kleptomaniac platypus ,a massive rhino-beast (known as an erumpent), delicate twig-like bowtruckles, a silvery monkey-type critter capable of invisibility and, most notably, the thunderbird, a magnificent bronze eagle adorned with gold flecks. Scamander is the champion of these creatures, and his shy appreciation makes him an ideal animal activist.  While the beast scenes are frustratingly brief and seem to disrupt the narrative arc, their whimsical charm adds absurdity and brightness to the landscape.

With that being said, Fantastic Beasts is certainly not without its flaws. J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay for the film, and while it is interesting to see her elaborate on her universe-building, the story often feels cramped and overstuffed. In fact, there is so much new terminology crammed into the film that much of it is rendered entertaining but ultimately forgetful. Nevertheless, it is important to note that this film is the first of five, and it is likely that Rowling will pick up these threads later on in the series for further development.

For dedicated fans, the first of five installments offers enough to spark excitement and anticipation. With its themes of persecution, corruption and social division, Fantastic Beasts feels as relevant as ever, making it a delightful film that is oddly comforting in today’s current climate.