Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A fine addition to Harry Potter Franchise


Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

(From left to right) Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein, Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski and Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein. Actors were allowed to design their custom wands for the movie.

Brynne Herzfeld, Voice Editor

The world of Harry Potter returned to theaters on Nov. 8 with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a five movie prequel series. Set in 1926, the movie follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a “magizoologist” who studies magical creatures. When several of his creatures escape in New York City, he teams up with former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) and the non-magical Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to locate and capture them, butting heads with America’s wizarding government along the way.With J.K. Rowling, author of the film’s source material, as screenwriter and a producer, Fantastic Beasts fleshes out wizarding America and its culture, but often shifts the mood jarringly and leaves several plot questions unanswered.

Unlike the previous Harry Potter films, Fantastic Beasts eases viewers into the previously unexplored magical community of America without resorting to large, confusing chunks of information. Audience members do not need to be experts on Rowling’s work to understand and enjoy the movie. However, diehard fans also learn new things as the movie introduces aspects unique to America, such as referring to non-magical people as “no-majs” rather than the British “muggles,” and instead of Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic, the wizarding community is governed by the Magical Congress of the United States of America.

Fantastic Beasts seamlessly incorporates the culture of early 1900s America; Jacob Kowalski is a struggling WWI veteran, and the protagonists visit the magical equivalent of a speakeasy, prominent during the Prohibition Era. At the same time, it still feels like Harry Potter’s universe, with its moving photographs and Tina’s former position as an Auror, someone tasked with capturing dangerous wizards.

The film does have drawbacks. Fantastic Beasts highlights several no-maj characters with subplots that have almost no impact on the movie’s finale. As the movie progresses, the shifts between whimsicality and darkness become increasingly abrupt as opposed to Harry Potter’s gradual descent from lightheartedness to seriousness. Though they do not ruin the movie, these flaws are noticeable and puzzling at times.

Overall, the movie delivers the glimpse into the magical world outside of Hogwarts that fans have craved since the first Harry Potter movie, and it is a promising start to a new magical adventure. While it has its issues, new and old fans alike will enjoy this fresh take on J.K. Rowling’s beloved wizarding world.