It was always going to be a difficult task for JK Rowling to recreate the magic of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, but she and Director David Yates have succeeded in taking the wizarding world overseas in the Potter spin-off and prequel of sorts, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The story is set in 1926 New York and follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a Magizoologist who was expelled from Hogwarts for endangering pupils with a beast. His journey begins in turmoil as a number of his magical creatures escape his tardis-like briefcase after accidentally switching cases with no-maj, the American term for muggle, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Newt then meets Tina (Katherine Waterston), an American witch and employee of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), and the trio attempt to reclaim the mischievous beasts dotted around the city before they aggravate the apparent already fragile relations between the wizarding world and the non-magical society of New York. However, Newt’s beasts turn out to be harmless compared to the dark magic that terrorizes the city.
Rowling has addressed darker and more serious themes such as segregation, oppression, religious tensions, humanity’s disregard of nature, and fear of the unknown – a stark contrast to the themes of acceptance and equality addressed in the Harry Potter series. This could potentially aid in the film’s appeal to non-Potter fans and is particularly relevant given the current uncertainty of the American political landscape.
The actors are exceptional and truly breathe a breath of fresh air into Rowling’s wizarding realm. Redmayne’s performance in particular is brilliant and executes his performance of the bumbling and potentially autistic Newt superbly. However, my one criticism of the film would be that Newt and the other protagonists are very one dimensional. We’re only given momentary glimpses of their personalities and backgrounds and we fail to see any substantial character growth or development – arguably as a result of the multiple plot lines and the need to address each one, which severely limits the meaningful screen time of the protagonists. It feels as though Rowling is trying to address too much and the major characters have been underused and lack depth as a result of this.
I disagree with the criticism that this film lacks substance and merely stands as a stepping stone into the sequel. With stunning visuals and CGI, Rowling introduces a compelling storyline in an unfamiliar yet beautiful setting and certainly has the stature to oppose the suggestion that it’s dragged out and isn’t a standalone story.
Harry Potter has a place in a generation of hearts and veering away from that comforting and familiar world was a challenge, particularly as people are often sceptical of spin-offs, but a challenge that Rowling and Yates were brave enough to take on and their bravery was paid off. Fantastic Beasts has no novel counterpart which will surely allow Rowling and Yates an element of freedom when taking this series forward.
I cannot wait for the remaining chapters of the Fantastic Beasts saga where Rowling will certainly build upon the compelling storyline, intriguing characters and enchanting wizarding world that has been introduced.