Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
It’s been nearly twenty years since a woman named Joanne published a children’s book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone under the androgynous pseudonym “J.K. Rowling.” In the years since, Jo Rowling has
penned six sequels toHarry Potter
helped produce eight film adaptations
maintained lively interaction with fans via twitter and thePottermore website
founded a charitable organization for orphaned children
and now, written the first screenplay for a new Wizarding World series entitled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
I had a realization when I attended a special screening of Fantastic Beasts at Carnegie Hall in NYC, hosted by Rowling and Beasts star Eddie Redmayne. The event was a benefit for Rowling’s organization Lumos, and as I listened to her speak about the charity so thoughtfully and passionately, the impact of this woman hit me with the force of a Locomotor spell.
I don’t say this lightly, but Jo Rowling has literally changed the world.
She went from a struggling single mother living in poverty, to the author of what might go down in history as the greatest bit of children’s literature ever written. And now she has helped pave the way for an NGO that fights relentlessly to remove the need for orphanages around the world and keeps children with families who can give them the love and developmental support that humans so desperately need.
She first gave us a glimpse of her huge heart in Harry Potter. Then, as the founder of Lumos. Now we get to see it again - combined with conviction and immense imagination - in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The film begins in 1926 with young British magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything) preparing to enter New York City with a mysterious suitcase. Scamander, a former student of the much-renowned Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is wholly unprepared for the magical community he finds in America. With Wizards and No-Maj’s (also known as muggles) living in such close quarters, tensions are high, interaction (including romance) is forbidden between Wizards and No-Maj’s, and magical creatures are treated with hostility and suspicion.
Newt’s visit is thrown into chaos as his path crosses with a No-Maj called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and the creatures from his enchanted suitcase are accidentally set loose into a city already experiencing magical turmoil. Scamander and Kowalski soon team up with sisters Tina (a serious-minded ex-Auror) and Queenie (a bubbly, more sensual Legilimens) to retrieve the creatures, evade magical law enforcement and solve a dark mystery plaguing the city.
I want to be up front with Harry Potter fans - this movie is not Potter caliber, so don’t expect it. It’s not filled with winsome children, it’s not a coming of age classic, it’s not an epic allegory of good vs. evil. But with measured expectations, I found this film to be absolutely lovely and enchanting, with much to admire.
Eddie Redmayne brings his signature character devotion (this time an awkward, offbeat charm) and is definitely a hero I could root for over a five-film series. Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol as Tina and Queenie Goldstein are fairly simple characters, but each brings her own distinct spark to the film’s palette.
The movie is also a truly visual delight- and the scapes and creatures will bring certain joy to the Luna Lovegoods and Hagrids among us, who can’t get enough of all things scaly, fluffy, furry, quizzical and wild.
Director David Yates does a fine job pulling on the best elements from his four Harry Potter credits, keeping the action moving and the atmosphere both familiar and fresh.
Subtly, despite great pomp and special effects, the movie asks questions of its characters and viewers: Which lives deserve to be saved? How do mercy and justice work together? How do we treat those that we fear? Why do we fear those that we fear? Over the years, we’ve gotten to ponder these types of hard-hitting questions through the Potter franchise. The house elves taught us about justice and nefarious class systems. The death eaters taught us about racism and bigotry. Tom Riddle taught us the dangers of living without empathy and love.
Honestly, Potterheads, just go enjoy Fantastic Beasts. It’s not the mental and emotional rollercoaster of Deathly Hallows Part 1, but it’s fun, thoughtful, and the beginning of a new adventure for our Beloved Queen Storyteller. It feels a little like a first screenplay, but everybody’s gotta start somewhere. Even J. K. Rowling.