The wizarding world that was featured in the Harry Potter novels and movies was one that felt very expansive and worthy of exploration. Now with a screenplay penned by J.K. Rowling herself, fans are introduced to a time that is almost completely divorced from Potter’s journey. While telling prequel stories are sometimes met with mixed feelings, what makes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them truly magical is the blending of familiar concepts with a fresh and distant take.
Minor spoilers below.
One thing that is made clear right off the bat is that Fantastic Beasts has Rowling’s fingerprints all over it both in style and substance. The world of magic has not lost any of its touch as we are now transported to New York in the 1920’s. While the Ministry of Magic in London has been replaced with the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), the flair that comes with being a wizard is still as vibrant and imaginative as ever.
The structure of Fantastic Beasts feels very familiar to Rowling’s previous works. While the main plot focuses on magical zoologist Newt Scamander and his time in America before he publishes his book, it is very clear that there is much more going on. At the same time, there’s the glooming threat of a dark wizard known as Gellert Grindelwald and a call for a second witch hunt by a group of No-Maj’s (non-magic folk) known as Second Salemers.
While each of these stories feel disjointed, they intermingle with each other in a very organic manner, especially when it comes to the ending. While there does feel like some scenes were padded out, there was always something going on that gave it a purpose of being in the narrative. This purposeful style of storytelling was something that made the Harry Potter franchise work and it’s good to see that it carried over to this new story.
However, one of the major drawbacks of Fantastic Beasts is that its main narrative is bogged down by the rest of the side stories. That may not necessarily be the fault of the storytelling, but because Newt himself doesn’t feel like that interesting of a character. Newt isn’t called to become something bigger than himself; he’s just someone who was there when things happened. While his presence was organic to the plot, there’s nothing about what transpired that would label this as his hero’s journey.
The story of Fantastic Beasts feels like a jumping off point to tell a much grander story that was often alluded to during the main series. While this is an exciting prospect, it didn’t feel like they gave Newt’s story the attention it needed, making it feel like he’s a side character in this entire story. There were several things that we got to encounter thanks to his position as a magical zoologist, it’s tragic to say that Newt’s presence in this story feels very replaceable.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a film that will please most audiences and satisfy the craving most fans of the wizarding world have had for some time. It uses what made Harry Potter’s story work while allowing itself to explore new territory. While the film could have focused on the main plot a bit more, this feels like a great introduction to a vibrant and compelling story.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gets 8 stars out of 10.