It’s been five years since one of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world books made it to the big screen. While fans dried their eyes at the closing of Harry Potter’s story, the wildly successful British author was already at work on her next addition to her wizarding world. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them begins a thrilling new tale, but many years before the chosen one’s birth and Lord Voldemort’s rise to power. Last week, fans sat with popcorn in hand as the film Fantastic Beasts introduced a new, or rather old, era of the wizarding world, with darker themes and brighter colors than potter-heads have seen before.
Taking place on the streets of New York City in the year 1926, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), British wizard and caretaker of magical creatures, sails from London to the United States carrying a briefcase filled to the brim with magical creatures. After a hectic and only slightly catastrophic incident at a No-Maj (non-magic folk) bank, Scamander’s creatures are let loose. With his precious cargo causing mayhem in the city, the young wizard seeks help from American wizard sisters Porpentina Goldstein (Katharine Waterston) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) along with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a local New York No-Maj, to not only help Scamander retrieve his lost creatures, but also save the city from a force much more dangerous than any monster found in his magical briefcase.
Director David Yates, partnered with producers David Heyman and Rowling, brought to the silver screen a film filled with not only beauty and magic but also shocking and refreshing realism. Fantastic Beasts explores not only the world of wizards but also the world of No-Maj New York in the twenties. In the Harry Potter films, there is almost no overlap between the world of wizards and the world of Muggles. While there may be hidden buildings, invisible cars and other magical elements sprinkled about the streets of London, Muggles are almost completely oblivious to the world of witches and wizards. However, in Fantastic Beasts, there are groups like the New Salemers who are fully aware of the presence of witches and wizards in New York City and aim to see them burned at the stake. This is a much more realistic and darker image painted for viewers in this particular story by Rowling and Yates. Instead of wizards and witches thriving in a hidden community, Fantastic Beasts shows oppressed and beaten down magical individuals, forced to hide their magic and even socialize or sometimes live underground. In this way the film stays true to the times it is set in. The twenties were no walk in the park and would have been especially difficult for witches and wizards desperately trying to make a living while also keeping their world a protected secret.
While themes of oppression are prominent in the film, Fantastic Beasts gives underrated magical creatures spotlight roles, capturing the essence of innocence and wonder of Rowling’s magical world. For the first time, fans are able to see their favorite magical creatures not only come to life in extraordinary detail, but also are able to gain in-depth insight about the animals that roam the magical lands that have long-captured the hearts of audiences. Magical creatures from all parts of the world have starring roles in Fantastic Beasts and American fans, for the first time, are offered the invaluable gift of learning about the magical creatures that originate here in the states, not just in the European countries across the sea.
Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot does an excellent job bringing JK Rowling’s imagination and written word to life. The stunningly vibrant colors of Scamander’s beasts that glisten as they move across the screen will widen audience eyes and the tour of the magical creatures’ habitats will give goosebumps to the arms of viewers as they sit in awe at the magnificence of each landscape. Rousselot’s themes of light versus dark are to be applauded and praised as he cleverly associates light and rich colors with magical innocence and dark and dull colors with the No-Majes and the magically oppressed. Rousselot hones in on the emotions of the characters and the scene with his use of light and color paying close attention that each action sequence doesn’t take away from the detail of the scene.
Redmayne truly becomes the character of Scamander with his crooked smile, shining eyes and awkward demeanor. Not for a moment do you believe he is anyone other than the sweet and stuttering young wizard desperately trying to save his beloved beasts and the citizens of New York City. Redmayne and Waterston have excellent chemistry with their back and forth witty banter, and Waterston perfectly captures the eager and mostly sympathetic edge of Porpentina Goldstein. Folger is superb at playing the dumbfounded No-Maj in awe of the magical world he finds himself wrapped up in and Ezra Miller tugs at the heartstrings and tear ducts of audiences as a quiet and abused young boy desperate to find a light in his dark and lonely world. The dashing Colin Farrell will make viewers hate with a passion all that’s wrong with the wizarding world and the surprise appearance by beloved actor Johnny Depp is something audiences will never see coming.
With beautiful visuals, shocking themes and references to Dumbledore, Hogwarts and the American wizarding school Ilvermorny, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a film with both a fresh story to tell and a movie filled with nostalgia. Fantastic Beasts gives devoted fans new insight into the world they’ve grown up reading about and teaches that the only beasts we have to fear are the monsters we hide inside ourselves.