Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Due to the nature of most manner of sequels and reboots, I (forgive me, all-mighty J.K. Rowling) expected this movie to fail. Or at least to come across as rather disappointing and vaguely forgettable. But Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is none of these things. The film features easy-to-love characters, adorable and well-rendered magical creatures, and even a good tragic villain. Director David Yates was able to recapture the essence of the wizarding world we all know and love, and even translate it to a different time and place. From the high IMdB rating to the thunderous applause in my theater when the credits rolled, I think many viewers already agree that FBAWTFT is a highly entertaining new addition to the Harry Potter franchise.

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I’ve always had a problem with universe expansion after the series has come to a close. As an avid writer of fanfiction, I like that most authors let the fans take care of that. But Rowling isn’t most authors. Her HP universe is already so vast and detailed that many ends of it demand explanation, and from Twitter to Pottermore, she’s more than happy to deliver. But an entirely new movie, an entirely new adventure, five years after the credits rolled for Deathly Hallows part 2? At first it seemed likely that the movie’s purpose was to produce some new merch for Universal’s Wizarding World, so I faced the announcement of FBAWTFT with a sense of very cautious optimism. But it’s clear to me, now that I’ve actually seen it, that Rowling was calling the shots during production.

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The world-building that went into FBAWTFT was very well-suited to the time and place. At first, the differences between the American wizarding world and the British one were surface-level, like the fact that they have a different word for “non-wizard” (trainers vs. sneakers, flat vs. apartment, muggle vs. no-maj). But as the film went on, the contrast became a bit more complex. The government building may have the same high ceilings and architecturally unfeasible floorplan as the Ministry of Magic, but in America, the laws governing wizardry are quite different. For example, a witch/wizard cannot legally marry a no-maj. There is also the presence of a glaring anti-witch sentiment from the New Salem Philanthropic Society that, frankly, disturbed me (in a good way, though?). As readers and viewers of the Harry Potter series, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the fantastic, whimsical wizarding world from the point-of-view of those who inhabit it. But here, it almost feels like we’ve jumped into an episode of Salem; the notion of magical oppression is terrifying. As a jump-starter for a new franchise, FBAWTFT definitely veered into darker territory than The Sorcerer’s Stone.

FBAWTFT boasts a wide network of interconnected plot threads; you really have to pay attention during this movie to follow it. And this isn’t a bad thing. The opposite, actually. There are a lot of interesting new ideas that this movie brings into play; things that were touched upon very briefly (the use of the obliviate charm to control non-wizard media/memory) or not at all (the fate of repressed witches and wizards who never learn to control their powers) in the original series.

That being said, despite its newness and reboot-ness and American-ness, FBAWTFT is still undeniably Harry Potter and undeniably Rowling, as are the film’s characters. Tina’s story, her ambition and strength, made her compelling. Newt’s love of his magical creatures made him passionate, knowledgeable, and downright adorable. Queenie made me laugh, and Credence made me cry. Kowalski made me laugh and cry quite a bit during the film’s 133 minute runtime, sometimes simultaneously.

The only bad thing I can say about this movie? There will be five sequels.

GRADE: A+

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