It’s been five years since the final Harry Potter film was released and practically fifteen years to date since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in theaters. The first book was released a little over nineteen years ago. Now, we are about to experience a brand new story from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World – one that hasn’t been read in the pages of one of her books before.
This new chapter is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and is the tale of Magizoologist Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) visit to New York City in 1926. With a new era, a new story, new characters and the same, familiar Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts shines and reminds us of the fantastical world we know and love.
The film is very similar, yet very different from the Harry Potter movies. Gone are the tales of children getting wrapped up in prophecy and dark magic. Gone is the familiar Hogwarts setting. Even though Fantastic Beasts isn’t exactly Harry Potter, it still feels the same and delivers the same emotions that those films get across.
Redmayne conveyed this message during the cast’s roundtable sessions on Monday, Nov. 7th, “Genuinely, my mind was blown. It was a story that managed to, there was a thriller element, there was a darkness to it, but there was great humor and that thing that [Rowling] did in all of the Potter films: that it has great heart at the center of it too.”
Redmayne wasn’t the only one that felt that Fantastic Beasts is similar to Harry Potter. Dan Fogler, who plays No-Maj (American for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski, said that, “It’s just like the first movie when Ron and Harry and Hermione find each other and form their little tribe.”
Alison Sudol, who plays Queenie, said, “These characters are very lucky that they find each other and they find sort of a home and a place to belong with each other.”
The basic setup is the same for both Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Both films feature a group of outsiders coming together and finding solace in the fact that they have found each other. Both films also start off nice and fluffy, but Fantastic Beasts becomes darker at a quicker rate. The great thing about Fantastic Beasts is that the story is directly aimed at adults because children are no longer the center of attention.
So, what is Fantastic Beasts all about?
Newt comes to New York City at a time where the Wizarding World and the No-Maj world are kept extremely separate. Witches and wizards fear exposure and live in the shadows of society. Unbeknownst to Newt, he is arriving to a city that has been under attack by some mystery force. To make his stay more uncomfortable, some of the creatures in his magical case escape, which causes the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA, the American Ministry of Magic) to come after him and an ex-Auror, Tina (Katherine Waterston). Head Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) attempts to pit the blame of the city going into shambles on both Newt and Tina, so they are forced to work together to figure out what’s really going on.
As producer David Heyman puts it, the film hinges on, “The notion of a character who’s been denied the possibility of being who he is, that’s a theme that runs through a lot of Jo’s work, and the dangers, the consequences, of when you don’t allow people to be who they are.”
There are many ways in which the film explores the American Wizarding World and what was happening in America in the 1920’s, but Ezra Miller, who plays Credence Barebone, said, “I just think it’s fascinating in the way that some of the differences between England and the United States are explored, but through the lens of the magical communities.”
Fogler said that the film is “a mirror to racism, to segregation.”
There’s not much that can be said about the greater plot or characters without giving all of the great twists away. However, the characters and plot all develop in the way that I hoped they would. The film is fantastic in every sense of the world and has the added benefit of using magical creatures to create even more wonder and amazement. Even though the title is Fantastic Beasts and the creatures ultimately bring the new group together, the film isn’t about the creatures, it’s about the same human conditions that Rowling has written about and shown us on-screen in all of her projects.
Miller summed up my feelings of the film by saying, “The only thing that I want [young viewers] to know is that for me, as someone who was a young Harry Potter fan, this movie lives up to all of my expectations. Clearly I’m a bit of a biased party because I’m in the movie, but I would like to think I was a rather critical viewer despite that fact, and this film exceeds expectations.”