By Alicia Powell

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", the "Harry Potter" wizarding spinoff movie, had its world premiere on Thursday night, and the cast said they hoped the film would provide both escapist comfort and a message of acceptance in the real world.

The film, the first of five, takes place 70 years before events in the first Harry Potter books and features a cast of new characters with magical powers. Set in 1926, it centers on Newt Scamander, a "magizoologist" who arrives in New York with a case full of strange creatures that quickly escape.

Just like the Harry Potter books and movies that were rich in themes of good and evil, death and family, author J.K. Rowling infuses the "Fantastic Beasts" story with darker topics of xenophobia and intolerance.

"There are a few really beautiful and pertinent messages in the film ... There is this fear of the other, this fear of what we don't understand, a need to blame and segregate. And how hate can grow into something that is just overpowering because of that," actress Alison Sudol, who plays the mind-reading Queenie Goldstein, told reporters on the red carpet in New York.

Ezra Miller, whose character Credence Barebone is shy and unloved, said the movie has "the comfort and the escapist wonder that she (Rowling) brings" as well as issues "to take back to our world to get to work on."

Rowling, who wrote the screenplay for the film, said the story was "partly informed by what I saw as a rise of populism around the world."

"If you have read the (Harry) Potter books you know this period threatened to become very dystopian. You were looking at the rise of a very dark force," the British author told a news conference ahead of Thursday's premiere.

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" opens worldwide on Nov. 18.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)