Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review

***Spoiler warning!

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review: Part 2

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review: Part 2

What I found the most fascinating part of this whole story is the alternate reality in which Voldemort has triumphed. We always knew Voldemort and his followers would be defeated, even if it meant the death of Harry and so many of the characters we came to love. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child dares to enter such a world, dares to show us through Scorpius’s eyes what the world would have become under Voldemort’s complete reign. The result is terrifying, yet it’s also thrilling to see a version of this world where darkness won. And against all odds, this alternate reality yields the two most satisfying parts of the book.

The first of these tremendous satisfactions is Scorpius Malfoy taking charge to save the day. While I’d loved the unexpected but powerful friendship between Albus and Scorpius up to this point, I did feel like Scorpius was being relegated too much to the role of faithful sidekick. In this alternate reality he learns to take charge, to be bold without Albus. Without the courage of Scorpius Malfoy, the world may have been doomed to the alternate reality where Voldemort and his followers reigned supreme. Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco Malfoy, grandson of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and great-nephew of Bellatrix Lestrange, played an integral role in saving the world from Voldemort and his followers. If that’s not a deliciously satisfying development, then I don’t know what is.

The second tremendous satisfaction is Severus Snape proving in any reality he will always be a complex hero who despite seemingly impossible circumstances will make the ultimate sacrifices to continue fighting for the cause Lily Potter believed in. That Snape, Hermione and Ron are all that’s left of the Order of the Phoenix and resistance against Voldemort is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. My heart breaks for the deaths of all the characters we love. My heart warms at the thought that Snape and Hermione and Ron have continued the good fight even when all seems lost, that despite all the times he tormented them at Hogwarts because of their friendship with James Potter’s son, Snape and Hermione and Ron have managed to unite and move forward for the greater good. The kiss between Ron and Hermione and their declarations of love were really emotional. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be permanent, their brave sacrifice in the face of Dementors was even more emotional, exemplifying that even the worst twists of fate and magic cannot undo their love for each another. Plus seeing two of your all-time favorite characters get their souls sucked out by Dementors is pretty damn terrifying.

But back to Snape, I love how stage directions can convey so much in so few words, my favorite example in this playing being in the alternate reality when Dolores Umbridge confronts Snape and reveals she knows he’s been working against Voldemort and his followers all these years: “There’s a moment of pure silence. And then SNAPE does something hugely unusual—he smiles” (194). When I picture Severus Snape, I picture Alan Rickman and the way he so flawlessly embodies the character. In this moment, I imagine that smile breaking across a face used to sneering, that smile a relief after years of tragedy and secrecy and failures, a relief to display his undying love for Lily Potter for all to see. This chilling, powerful moment may be the best moment in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, continuing to develop Snape in a brilliant manner befitting his character. Also factor in that without Snape, Scorpius would never have been able to succeed, from the moment when Scorpius first confronts Snape to the ultimate sacrifice Snape makes to ensure Scorpius can right the timeline. Severus Snape (again) and Scorpius Malfoy (for the first time) are two of the most essential characters in saving the world from Voldemort and his followers. The delicious developments continue.

No villain could ever be more terrifying and complex than the one Umbridge and the Dementors serve: Voldemort. I was glad to see they didn’t try to create a more formidable villain for the story, but instead chose a villain that leads us to question the legacy of the greatest Harry Potter villains: Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange. Even from death, Voldemort continues to haunt and menace the Wizarding World, now more than ever through the manifestation of his daughter Delphini. Delphi doesn’t feel like a new villain so much as she feels like an extension of Voldemort. The connection between Albus and Delphi proves that the connection between Harry and Voldemort will never completely dissipate; even their children will feel the powerful connection between them. Even Harry feels the connection when he tells Delphi “You can’t remake your life. You’ll always be an orphan. That never leaves you” (292). Harry understands Delphi more than anyone, just as he understood Voldemort better than anyone ever did.

In a story largely about the connectivity between the old generation and the new generation grappling with legacy, it is fitting to see more than the Potter, Malfoy and Granger-Weasley families dealing with this. It is fitting that a child of Voldemort deals with this as well. It would have undone everything, but I can’t help but be curious about what the meeting between Voldemort and Delphi would’ve been like in 1981 if it had been allowed to happen.

I did expect more of a role from Rose Granger-Weasley being the first child of Hermione and Ron to attend Hogwarts, in addition to being a friend and close cousin to Albus. While it’s disappointing for her to not be more integral to the story, it makes sense with the message that life never works out like you plan or expect. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is above all the story of Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy and their unlikely but beautiful friendship, and how that friendship even transforms the relationship Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny have with their old nemesis Draco Malfoy. It makes sense that the most changes between Harry and Draco as their sons Albus and Scorpius are causing the ripples that become tsunami waves. Through the actions of their sons, Harry and Draco realize their actions to shield their children from their fathers’ legacies have only burdened rather than freed their children. The real understanding and connection forms between Harry and Draco when Harry realizes “Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they needed, but what we needed. We’ve been so busy trying to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve blighted their present” (261). The play is just about Albus and Scorpius struggling with the past’s influence on the present just as much as Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Draco are.  The play is not the story of Rose Granger-Weasley and the other Potter and Granger-Weasley children. Part of me thinks this should be the true end of the Harry Potter series, that there should be no ninth story. Another part of me wants to get the story of Rose Granger-Weasley and the other Potter and Granger-Weasley children, and more from Albus and Scorpius. We’ll see what happens.

But even in a story that focuses so much on the new generation and their parents, the story strives to honor the actions of incredibly important characters from the seven Harry Potter novels. I haven’t written much about Ginny, but her conversation with Harry about “specific love” is one of the most moving and important scenes in the play. Then there’s Albus Dumbledore continuing to provide Harry wisdom about the mess that is life via his painting at Hogwarts. There’s Neville Longbottom whose brave defiance of Voldemort leading to destroying Nagini and in extension the final Horcrux is the act on which history will or will not be changed forever. There’s Minerva McGonagall excelling as Headmistress of Hogwarts, honoring everything the school stands for, not afraid to defy Harry’s wishes despite his past heroics, also unafraid to ask the hard questions when the Ministry informs the public of difficult situations. There’s Rubeus Hagrid, and the beautiful moment of witnessing him finding baby Harry. There’s Dolores Umbridge, doling out her brand of evil and thriving as Headmistress in the alternate reality where Voldemort won. There’s Cedric Diggory forever changing the course of history in more ways than one could imagine (take that you Hufflepuff haters). There’s even Ludo Bagman and some hilarity from the Triwizard Tournament we missed out on in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (loved the joke about the French).

Like Professor Binns, I’ve gone on far too long. In short, I felt just as captivated by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as any other Harry Potter book. It is a fantastic and worthy addition to the Harry Potter series, albeit its inevitable differences and limitations from the novels. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is brilliant on the page, and now I just can’t wait to the day until I can see it on the stage.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review: Part 1

***Spoilers ahead!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a delightful addition to the Harry Potter series. However, fans must first accept a couple truths to appreciate and embrace this delightful addition. One must first accept the simple but important truth that while this is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series it is not the eighth novel by J.K. Rowling. Rowling’s phenomenal prose is absent, causing the magnificent depth of character and universe created through meticulous world-building to not be quite as strong in this volume. This is inevitable in the medium of a play’s rehearsal script. Accept this. And accept that the neatly packaged happy ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows can’t sustain itself completely, that for another compelling and believable and meaningful chapter to exist the package must come untied with new conflict arising.

That being said, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is my favorite of the Harry Potter books, including the neatly packaged happy ending. So it was difficult at first to see it unravel, to see Albus Severus Potter struggle at Hogwarts and with the shadow of his father’s legacy, and to see the strained relationship between father and son. For Hogwarts, the place that was Harry’s home to become a place of misery (other than his friendship with Scorpius Malfoy) for Albus was difficult to stomach. Seeing Harry and Hermione as Ministry of Magic officials was initially another bitter pill. After the Ministry’s many obstacles and parade of incompetence they placed in the path of Harry, Hermione and Ron and the Order of the Phoenix, it was a bit disappointing at first to see Harry and Hermione working for them in such prominent positions. I couldn’t help feeling like they’d sold out to the Man. What had happened to these compassionate, courageous, brilliant individuals? Are we all destined to become enslaved by paperwork and jobs that deprive and cause family life to suffer?

That’s what makes Harry Potter and the Curse Child a brilliant addition to the series. Just as the readers have grown up, so have the characters and their world. Harry and Hermione aren’t sell-outs. They’ve grown up to take on jobs that fit their skills. They take on these jobs in a way that prevents as many obstacles and incompetency as possible, a stark contrast from the Ministry of Magic we remember. Inevitably, mistakes are still made (Hermione should have had better security protecting Theodore Nott’s Time-Turner). But their openness with the public and willingness to work with individuals outside the Ministry, even when such openness exposes vulnerability and the truth that everything isn’t under control, is major development from the Ministry we remember. And it’s because compassionate, courageous, brilliant individuals like Harry and Hermione have taken on these roles and do them far better than we’ve ever seen the Ministry do before. The paperwork and the deprivation and suffering of family life are downers, but a reality of those working in high-pressure, time-demanding positions. This is yet another step in weaving the magical yet highly believable tapestry that is the Harry Potter universe.

In terms of the children, Albus Potter becoming friends with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus being sorted into Slytherin were the perfect foundation on which to build the story’s conflict. When Albus expresses to Harry the fear of being sorted into Slytherin in the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we get the idea that free will must always triumph. So even if the Sorting Hat tries to place him in Slytherin he’ll still end up in Gryffindor because he’ll probably choose Gryffindor through his free will. Even if his free will takes him to Slytherin, Harry will still be accepting and their relationship won’t change for the worse. The play challenges the sweet but all too easy solution to that conundrum by placing Albus in Slytherin, and having him become alienated while seemingly failing in all the ways Harry excelled at Hogwarts. I say “seemingly” because the most important way Harry excelled was the meaningful relationships he developed, and Albus succeeds at that with Scorpius. Scorpius is quite unlike his father Draco and has many delightful parallels to Hermione’s character.

The story provides sufficient time to acquaint ourselves with Albus and Scorpius before Amos Diggory and Delphi arrive at the Potter household with the idea to bring Cedric Diggory back to life via the recently confiscated Time-Turner. Cedric was the first death of a likable character in the Harry Potter series. With the many tragic deaths of beloved characters that followed, his death became somewhat eclipsed. In light of this, the play’s focus on Cedric seems to be a way to honor his memory before diving into the consequences of time travel.

At first I was skeptical of the story’s reliance on Time-Turners and time travel. Instead of fully exploring the alienation Albus and Scorpius felt beneath inescapable and complex legacies their parents left behind, it felt like the story was copping out for Harry Potter meets Back to the Future and Stephen King’s 11/22/63. However, the time travel ends up working because it helps further develop in meaningful ways characters we thought we’d said goodbye to forever. It also allows Albus and Scorpius to better understand and experience what their parents fought for, the lengths one must sometimes go for such a fight, and the love of family and friendship will always be more powerful than any other magic.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this review . . .

 

 

Image credit: http://www.slashfilm.com/harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-movie/