Fantastic Beasts takes Potterheads back in time
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens with a faulty lock that comes loose, releasing an illegal magical creature in New York City, spurring a collision between Newt Scamander, a wizard from London, and Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj. A No-Maj, as explained in the film, is the North American term for a muggle, or someone who is unable to practice magic and is also not born of magical descent. Scamander only notices the creature’s absence when he hears a familiar sound: the clinking of coins. This particular magical creature has a habit of hoarding shiny, valuable objects in a belly pouch. Scamander is played by Eddie Redmayne and Kowalski by Dan Fogler.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, directed by David Yates and based on the novel written by J.K. Rowling, isolates the dark themes and patterns that spill over from the Harry Potter series while still maintaining their magic. Rowling wrote the book companion to the film in 2001, a few years after the release of the first four books in the Harry Potter series.
It is disputable, but the allegorical symbols that represent depression and war first present themselves primarily within Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Dementors that have been hired by the Ministry of Magic to seize alleged serial killer Sirius Black are described as the foulest beings who steal more than just the life of their prey. Allegorically, the Dementors may represent the continual uphill battle that stalls the process of overcoming depression.
The first two books in the Harry Potter series are more childish and the students at Hogwarts do not face anything other than instances of imminent death. Therefore, readers can argue that death by a quick murder is oftentimes preferable to losing all the feelings and thoughts that culminate into an identity, which happens during encounters with Dementors. This is where the dark themes first emerge and coalesce.
Yates clearly adopts this pattern throughout the rest of the movie franchise and Fantastic Beasts is not an exception. The premise behind the movie—a bumbling man who can repel more people than a Dementor loses a handful of magical creatures in the streets of New York and has to retrieve them—sounds like a tale told to infants to help them fall asleep.
The subplot deals with physical abuse, mental torment and feelings of pent-up loneliness and isolation. One of the intended villains, Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller, is an abused foster child who is thought to be a squib, or someone with dormant magical abilities who was born to magical parents. After the pot of heated emotions tips over, Barebone claims his magical abilities and wreaks havoc on the city.
The dark and heavily punctuated themes do not detract from any familiar whimsical elements in the movie. The creatures embody some semblance of favorite companions from the Harry Potter series, such as Buckbeak and Fawkes. Although this is set decades prior to the moment when Harry Potter discovers Scamander’s book, the storyline is familiar and heartfelt.
There are definitely questionable portions of the film that require rethinking. In some instances, wild animals conveniently pop up in Central Park and by jewelry stores. If Yates intended for this to be a way to induce distraction in the film so that the characters could maintain the plotline, it was poorly done and seemed senseless. In the same vein, Scamander left open the briefcase from which the creatures escaped several times, which puzzles any observant viewer who realizes that the latches needed to stay on in order for the creatures to be contained. These are however, minor qualms that do not pose a lasting problem for the overall film quality.
Fantastic Beasts is riddled with witty exchanges that only Potterheads would recognize. The film is too reminiscent of various moments in the series that often elicit powerful and emotional reactions from the most passionate viewers. Scenes from the movie cause flashbacks to the most striking and painful moments in Harry Potter history.
Despite the strange reminiscence, the film is unmatched and characteristically its own. The characters instantly charm even though their dialogues ruminate in sarcasm and self-deprecation. The creatures are pleasantly humorous and enticing to get to know. The soundtrack resonates because it is tweaked from the hollowed-out instrumental pieces sacred to the Harry Potter film franchise.
Its unexpected similarities to the original films are a positive aspect, especially for those who read, watched and valued Harry Potter since childhood. Die-hard Potterheads may appreciate the similarities more because they tend to be millennials who have both read the books and watched the movies countless times.
Watching Fantastic Beasts felt like entering a breach to another time when new Harry Potter books and films were still in the process of unraveling and coming out. Perhaps the main takeaway is that the personal connection that Fantastic Beasts establishes is enough to carve out a separate dimension of buried feelings and thoughts.