As a devoted fan of author J. K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series, it was only a matter of time until I discovered her companion books written in favour of charity: Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It has been years since I got my hands on these and I still remember laughing at the little doodles in them. Needless to say, I was beyond excited when the news spread that Fantastic Beasts would be turned into a movie – with a screenplay written by Rowling herself.
2016 was a good year for Harry Potter fans. In the summer, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered in London and was accompanied by the screenplay that could soon be found on every fan’s bookshelf. While I was not one hundred percent satisfied with Cursed Child, I started to become anxious as to the new film and its story. However, these worries were unsubstantiated.
Rowling has done a great job with her first screenplay. I read it about a month after I saw the film in cinema (where it had managed to amaze me and made me smile the whole length of it). Most of the scenes were still clear in my mind, and it was a bit like coming home to friends I’ve known for a long time. I guess the wizarding world just has this impact on me. Hogwarts will, of course, always be my home, but the New York of the 20s has a whole magic of its own. However, it is this setting that is also one of my points of criticism.
1920s. New York. I bet everyone has an association with this setting. But where is this association featured in the films? Where is the diversity we were all eager to see, that we hoped for, and finally thought to be included satisfactory in a screenplay that had very few set characters and story lines in the beginning? A big part of the population of New York in the 20s consisted of immigrants, POC immigrants. Sadly, we do not see them represented in the film. Not in major roles, not in secondary roles, but even in the background. What we see is a white wizarding population. You might think that many people migrated to the States, because they sought it to be their only option. With Grindelwald on the rise, you would think POC wizards were coming to New York as well, wouldn’t you? Yet, you do not see them. Seraphina might be a wonderful example that the wizarding world was, in some ways, ahead of the muggles (oh sorry, I meant non-majs) and I appreciate Rowling writing her and showing her leading the wizarding community of America. Nevertheless, diversity is not something you should make spare of. I know this discussion has been going on for some time now and is, of course, not restricted to Fantastic Beasts. Still, it is there and it bothered me, to some extend, while reading.
Besides this, I enjoyed the story. Through the Beasts, we get an insight into the wizarding world that we only occasionally got in Harry Potter. I was super happy to finally see a Niffler, especially such a cute one (though he seems difficult, better get a minimuff instead). Also, Pickett the Bowtruckle was so different from I had always imagined Bowtruckles to be. And not to forget the Demiguise, probably my favourite. I loved that it had such an important part later in the story and was portrayed more like a human than a beast. It reminded me of Hermione’s S.P.E.W. Newt would definitely have joined.
Another aspects I never really thought about until Fantastic Beasts had come out, is the fact that we have mature protagonists. While it was nice to see young Harry & Co. grow up and in the process get introduced to the problems and dangers of the wizarding world, Newt and his friends have to face these from the beginning. I am so familiar with the world already that it was nice to see Jacob, a muggle, get introduced to it and marvel at its magnitude. He is one of my highlights, being rather unruffled and true to himself. My second favourite character is Queenie. She seemed like a naive blonde at first, but later turned out to be a clever, gifted witch with a big heart.
The overall story might be a bit simpler than we are used to from Harry Potter and even got predictable in parts, however, it still managed to enchant me and make me root for the characters. I enjoyed that the focus is, besides Newt and his friends, also on other characters, namely Credence and Mary Lou. When the two storyline finally unite, there is a final battle that does not stand out because of it being epic, but rather because it seems reasonable and real (when we can talk about that in a fantasy story). It’s not too overloaded and it’s really adding by subtracting. In general, the story often progresses more intent. We see Tina coming home and spending a relaxed evening with her sister and their two new friends. We see their devotion for each other and it is so pure, for a second I was scared that someone might come and destroy it. Moreover, the scene in the suitcase was so magical, because here the time stands still. Everything goes on like normal and this scenes of normality help the story keeping its balance, to keep the audience interested, and everything from breaking down.
J. K. Rowling as provided us with an insight into a new, formerly unknown part of the wizarding worlds that has much potential for further exploration. Although I would like to see more diversity in the story and have a better representation of the setting, I enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and cannot wait for the sequel to see what new adventures await Newt and Co.