Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review
Whenever a series continues, the most important question is this: Is there still a story worth telling?
This is a question I grappled with as news of the upcoming film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trickled in. The concept sounded interesting, but would that be enough to make it a worthy story that enhances the Harry Potter canon? The answer is yes, yes, yes! Here are 4 things I loved about the film which make it a story worth telling in J.K. Rowling’s magical universe.
- The Beasts are Fantastic (sorry, couldn’t resist)
In both the Harry Potter books and movies, I love many of the scenes involving the beasts of the Wizarding World. Buckbeak’s introduction in The Prisoner of Azkaban and escaping Gringotts via dragon in The Deathly Hallows are two particularly riveting magical creatures-centered scenes that come to mind. It’s absolutely delightful to see creatures that Harry and his peers worked with in Care of Magical Creatures like nifflers and bowtruckles brought to life in film. Seeing a niffler in action can’t help but make you smile. Each creature has a distinct personality furthered by the vibrantly imaginative ecosystem within Newt Scamander’s suitcase. The CGI is stunning and the movie allows us to further explore many beasts that were just mentioned or played a minor role in the previous books and films. Getting to focus so much on them further develops an integral element of the Wizarding World. The interactions these creatures have with Newt and other characters lay a terrific groundwork for the “textbook” I read as a child and that Newt will one day write: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
- American Wizarding Society/1920’s Wizarding New York
Growing up I always wondered what the American Wizarding World looked like. There’s a mention of the Salem Witches Academy at the Quidditch World Cup in The Goblet of Fire, and that’s about all we get. Seeing the American Wizarding World starting to develop, infused with the location and culture of 1920’s New York was absolutely fascinating. From No-Majs, to MACUSA, to goblin gangsters, to an erumpent beneath the ice of Central Park and freeing animals from the Central Park zoo (seeing that erumpent gives me an entirely new appreciation for Hermione’s alarm when seeing the erumpent horn inside Xenophilius Lovegood’s home during The Deathly Hallows), to the climax in a subway station, this movie excelled at fusing these elements together into a fresh society whose existence still makes sense within the confines of the universe Rowling has thus far established.
The point I’m particularly interested in seeing further developed deals with the taboo on any kind of relationships or even interactions with Muggles/No-Majs. We know of many Muggle-born children and wizards and witches marrying Muggles in previous books and films. While the International Statue of Secrecy is still crucial to the British Wizarding World, Muggles can still become part of their society. As the Fantastic Beasts film series continues I hope to learn more about why any kind of relationship or even interactions with Muggles/No-Majs is so taboo in American Wizarding Society. There have to be more reasons beyond the International Statue of Secrecy as British Wizarding Society also takes that quite seriously.
- Delightful New Characters
It’s hard to create and develop characters in the same universe that’s given us the likes of Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Hermione Granger, and so many other complex and enthralling individuals. Therefore, I like that three of the four new core characters (Newt Scamander, Queenie Goldstein, and Jacob) are all extremely quirky in varying ways that significantly contrast from previously established characters in the Harry Potter canon. Porpentina Goldstein helps ground the eccentric group. All together, the group dynamics are delightful and we quickly grow to like these new characters. Furthermore, Newt, Porpentina and Jacob all develop in believable and significant ways, demonstrating that meaningful character development is still an integral piece of any Harry Potter story. Some of the supporting characters really shine too, particularly Credence. Ezra Miller delivers a brilliantly tortured performance as the many manipulators in his life drive him to destruction. In a largely fun-spirited movie, Miller’s performance helps provide moral complexity, a staple of any J.K. Rowling story.
I’m not arguing that any of these characters can even hold a candle to many of the beloved characters from this universe. But we’ve started off on the right foot, leading to abundant potential and promise for these characters as the film series continues to unfold.
- The Connections Matter
Name-dropping Albus Dumbledore in one of the movie’s trailers seemed a bit contrived to me. I still felt this way during the actual scene where Percival Graves interrogates Newt and the complete Dumbledore name-drop occurs.
The twist that Percival Graves was Gellert Grindelwald all along completely changes this. It’s not at all contrived as Grindelwald is trying to understand what his old friend and now nemesis sees in this Newt Scamander. He’s trying to get into Dumbledore’s head, perhaps even wondering if he can finally defeat Dumbledore via Newt.
I was literally jumping out of my seat when the newspapers flashed with Grindelwald’s name at the beginning of the movie. I thought this was done just to provide a tangible bridge between the Harry Potter canon we know and this new addition to the canon, and to further explain the panic and paranoia behind the Muggle attacks in New York City. As we find out, this connection really matters and achieves so much more.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not just the story of Newt Scamander, his creatures and their allies having adventures in 1920’s New York City. These movies are also providing essential insights into the Dumbledore-Grindelwald relationship and how their endeavors and conflict influences the entire Wizarding World.
Image credit: http://www.traileraddict.com/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them/feature-trailer