Movie – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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.

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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.

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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).

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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.

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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.

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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.

3 Comment

  1. Nicole Holstein says: Reply

    I have many thoughts, and I will not take over your blog with them, haha. But on the topic of Tina – I also felt she was a bit – meh. It wasn’t her rule following that put me off, though (hello, Hermione anyone? McGonigal?). It was that she was just so…flat. She was neither brave nor cowardly, neither strict nor flighty. She had an average amount of ambition for herself but the story didn’t make us care about her success outside of Newt’s story, really. She failed to stick up for herself when it would have mattered but her tendency to let herself be walked over was also not really a button they pressed hard enough to show, like, “hey, this character needs to undergo some growth before they can reach their full potential.” She was all around meh and it didn’t feel like the writers really cared about her or whether we cared about her. We cared about Newt, and by extension Tina, but only insofar that she made Newt a little happier. We cared about Queenie because she IS so outrageously talented and yet works in a coffee shop. “Tina’s the career girl,” she says as she dismisses her own importance. That makes us want to see her succeed and find a place and use for her inherent Legilemency skills. We care about Jacob because he’s sweet and honest and comic relief.
    The most interesting questions I think Fantastic Beasts asks the audience is through Jacob’s character:
    Is it better to know of possibilities that are beyond your reach or never know at all?
    And, also, what would you be like without magic in your life?
    To many of our generation, HP was so influential to the people we grew up to be, that it is hard to imagine who we’d be if we’d never loved the series. Magic entered Jacob’s life, even though he can never use it himself, and opened up a world of possibilities. “I don’t got the brains to dream this up,” he said. It brought him friendships when he seemed to be friendless and propelled him to become more than what he was. I would argue that magic did that for us, too. We will never be part of that magical world either, but it brought us on an amazing adventure, nonetheless. It brought us happiness and introduced many people to the world of books. How many people made friendships through the Harry Potter fan community, too? And I think many of us are better people today for having read the series as kids.

    1. maggie says: Reply

      Oh my – that is lots of thoughts! But I think you’re right. Tina was flat, Queenie was much more interesting (though I still argue – WAY overpowered). And I’ve seen the argument of Jacob as our eyes into this world. But you’re also right that we’re spoiled – nearly everyone in our generation and those younger is intimately familiar with the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Jacob our only avatar in that world if we’d had no exposure at all.

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