It’s back. Five years since the Harry Potter films were completed, but now the magic that filled my childhood is back, and it’s wonderful. Having grown up with the original series, I was both excited and apprehensive of this new film. I was sure the magic would be amazing, as always, but I was nervous about new characters and settings and stories being brought into this world I love so much – what if I didn’t like them? Fortunately, I enjoyed Fantastic Beasts so, so much, from the moment ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ was played over the opening titles. (Mild spoilers ahead).
A big part of this was the characters, as if you don’t like the protagonists of a story, it’s going to make it pretty difficult to enjoy the whole film. It was funny to have an entirely new cast and group of characters, but they turned out to be pretty good (though I’m not as attached to them after one film yet, when I had eight with the previous bunch!). Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, and brings us the most delightfully charming, awkward, quirky and utterly endearing wizard. Newt is clearly a bit of an outcast, one who doesn’t quite fit in, which makes him relatable to a lot of people. His backstory isn’t fully explained, but there’s enough mentioned to get a fair idea of why he is the way he is. His love of magical creatures and his dedication to protecting them, and educating other wizards about them is his driving force, and a big part of what makes him so endearing, and he also displays great loyalty and bravery. He admits that others find him a bit “annoying”, but I found him delightful, and I think Redmayne was the perfect choice. The rest of the main group, Tina, Queenie, and Jacob, are all highly likeable, but they don’t feel quite as fully developed yet. I’d like some more backstory to the Goldstein sisters in particular, as I felt Tina was difficult to understand at first – suddenly switching from confident to timid – and Queenie lacked considerable depth, but I’m hoping that since we’re getting more films in the future, we’ll learn a bit more about them. Jacob was also very endearing though, as watching him, a Muggle, discover the magical world was like watching yourself as a child again, when we all first discovered the Wizarding World through the Potter books and movies, and Jacob was full of that same wonder and delight we all felt.
The magic and the fantastic beasts was another area where the film shone, and the special effects team gets a lot of credit for that. The first time a spell was uttered instantly made me feel like I was back in that familiar world, especially since it took some time to get used to it being set in America this time! There were plenty of familiar spells, but also lots of non-verbal magic casually thrown in – watching Queenie cook with magic was delightful! I also really enjoyed scenes where parts of New York were magically reconstructed, as it’s like some carefully choreographed dance as everything fist back together, and it’s nice to see construction instead of destruction for a change! The magical creatures are just outstanding though, and so many new ones are introduced, from the cute, to the weird, to the remarkable. The scenes instead Newt’s suitcase are simply breathtaking, easily my favourite part of the film. Everything about that was magical and exciting and very sweet at moments, and I felt like a child experiencing these wonders again. Pickett the Bowtruckle will be a favourite of many, as he’s so sweet; the Niffler had me in fits of giggles all the time; and Frank, the Thunderbird, is simply magnificent and one of my favourite creatures to be introduced.
The creatures form the main plot line of the film, when several escape and Newt, with the help of his new friends, has to track them down across New York. More than anything else, this produced scenes of absolute hilarity; watching Newt perform an Erumpent mating ritual is one of the most bizarre, ridiculous things you will ever witness! These sorts of scenes were just so enjoyable to watch. However, there was a second storyline going on, which wasn’t mentioned so much in the trailers, with a much darker theme to it. It was an interesting one, which showed how different the magical community is in America, as wizards there seem to be much more repressed by Muggles. Yes, they keep magic hidden in Britain too, but the Potter films never had the same sense of scared, urgent secrecy that exists in New York. It’s fascinating to think of in comparison to the real world, where a young person may want to hide their sexuality, for instance, in a similar manner that one character feels forced to hide their magic, with unfortunate and disastrous consequences.This could feel a little disparate at times, the comedy juxtaposed with the severity of these scenes, and the only thing connecting them was really that they were both happening in New York. However, it did remind me of the earlier Potter films, which were bright and fun much of the time, but with a darkness that grew in the later films, and I think Fantastic Beasts is gearing up to do something similar. There was a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming (some plot lines were more predictable, but there’s a few surprises throughout), which I think will definitely come into play in the future films.
Overall, I am so happy with the new Wizarding World adventure we’ve been presented with. There are some weak points, as I’ve mentioned, which would be more problematic if it were an individual film, but I think they can, and will, build on the characters and storylines seen here in the future films that have already been announced. Our introduction to Newt and his world though, is fun, funny and charming throughout. There’s nice combination of all these new characters and situations, but with familiarity to it as well, with spells and references that bring out a sense of nostalgia. I was actually very happy that Newt is British, and references Dumbledore and Hogwarts, as this brings us a good amount of familiarity, rather than if everything was entirely American (it really did take some getting used to for me at first!), since Potter felt so British, something Rowling has mentioned wanting to enforce in those films. All in all, it was enjoyable, endearing, interesting, and frankly, quite magical.