My love for Harry Potter goes way back. It involves a day in early summer 1999 when I was at home by myself. I’m a curious person, and so decided the best thing to do would be to look through my parents room. Kids: don’t do that. I try not to anymore, but I am nosy AF, and like to know things. The point is, I stumbled across a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which a family friend had given my mother the previous year. It looked interesting, so I grabbed it, went back to my room, and devoured it over the course of a few hours. It was so good. I knew my mom had purchased the sequel when she got back to the US, so I went back to her room and pulled out the copy of … Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. You’re laughing. I’m laughing now. Teenage Maggie was distraught to discover after a couple pages that this was THE SAME BOOK with some words changed. Luckily my cousins owned a copy of the actual sequel (Chamber of Secrets), and so I was able to spend a family outing to Annapolis with my nose in the book instead of actually being sociable. I was gifted a copy of Prisoner of Azkaban after my first day of AP Biology, and was very upset with myself for not having gone to see JK Rowling at Politics and Prose when she was doing a US book tour. Imagine me kicking myself now.
Anyways – the point is I’m a giant HP nerd. There are lots of us. My story goes on, but the fact is that I’ve been invested in the world of Harry Potter for a very long time now, and so when I heard that they were making a movie out of the slim tome that JKR wrote as a fundraising effort – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – I was simultaneously intrigued and skeptical. “Really?” I thought. “Isn’t this just a way to exploit this brand for more money now that the actual books are all movies?” But I decided to go anyways.
Actually, that’s not quite true. H wanted to see it, and the Boy and I decided it would be good to go with her, since E would be able to stay with her mother that afternoon. So the three of us trooped off to the movie theater on a windy day, and settled in – hopefully – for another adventure in the wizarding world.
It turns out that my tender feelings for Eddie Redmayne – developed back when I watched the Pillars of the Earth miniseries, and encouraged with My Week with Marilyn and Les Miserables – were well placed. He is perfectly charming as Newt Scamander, the author of the guide to creatures that will become Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He is shy and gentle, friendly, quick-thinking and determined. He’s the perfect epitome of a Hufflepuff, and not in the derpy way that the internet likes to pretend that ‘puffs are.
The movie, as we’ve been told, takes Mr. Scamander to America in the 1920s. So not only is this a new area of the wizarding world, it’s a new era, which is exciting. We are briefly exposed to the concept of an American wizarding school, and spend more time with the American wizarding government, which is depicted as being much more insular than the British wizarding organization that we’ve seen.. We are also introduced to sisters Tina and Queenie, who live in a women’s dormitory reminiscent of “Thoroughly Modern Millie“. Newt becomes entangled in a plot point with Jacob – a non-magical person, and all four of these characters have a bit of an adventure (which is an understatement, but I don’t want to get too much into the plot).
So – my thoughts. It was fun! And it was neat to see a different aspect of the wizarding world than we had grown used to in the Harry Potter books and movies. Because there was concrete source for the plot, you didn’t go in knowing that things were going to happen, which was nice. And there were no subplots left out to get upset over. Some parts with the revelation of the baddie felt convoluted, but not too much so. And while there was a great deal of destruction a la Man of Steel, because we’re dealing with wizards, that ruination was easily cleaned up – making things feel less traumatic as a viewer.
I loved the beasts. I could post endless pictures of the ones that I loved and thought were amazing. The Bowtruckle that accompanies Newt nearly everywhere. The naughty Niffler on the loose. The Erumpent who stars in one of the best scenes in the movie where Newt does a mating dance to attract it back into his case. A Demiguise on the loose, and an Occamy who is too beautiful and savage for words.
Our main lady characters were…ok. Tina I generally liked, but she was sort of off-putting at the same time? Perhaps it was her incessant rule-following, which is something I do too, and I’ve heard that we tend to dislike the things in other people that we see in ourselves. Her sister Queenie also felt too powerful – she has the power of legilimency, which is so highly developed that in every scene she uses it, it feels like cheating. But she also has an affection for no-maj Jacob which I don’t entirely understand. Jacob too feels…like a caricature? Perhaps that’s because he’s the most prominent non-magical human in the entire movie, and is reacting to the wizarding world around him as any of us would if we hadn’t known about Harry Potter beforehand.
Anyways – it was interesting. I liked it. I’m intrigued to see more of this world on screen. And we definitely will – there are four more movies planned in the series – let’s hope they’re as good as this one was.
Details: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by J.K. Rowling, directed by David Yates. In theaters now.