And so the Wizarding World lives again. This weekend, with the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a brand new franchise is born that also enriches and reinvigorates the iconic Harry Potter series. Set in 1920s New York, in a completely different time and place from the Harry Potter franchise, Fantastic Beasts follows magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he attempts to collect his escaped beasts from the streets of New York while a much darker threat looms in the form of Gellert Grindelwald, a wizard bent on spurring a war between muggles and magic-folk in order to finally put witches and wizards on the top of the food chain.
Fantastic Beasts was, no doubt, born out of Warner Bros.’ desire to keep the lucrative Harry Potter franchise alive, but it was approached in all the right ways. J.K. Rowling makes her screenwriting debut on the film, and as she plans to write four more movies in the franchise, this is really her way of continuing the Harry Potter series in a different medium. Moreover, director David Yates—who helmed the final four Potter movies—returns to direct this prequel/standalone/spinoff feature.
So what’s the rub? How does this stack up against the Potter franchise? Well I, for one, found Fantastic Beasts to be positively delightful. The craft on display is magnificent, and Rowling once again shows her knack for creating rich and lovable characters. Newt, Tina, Queenie, and especially Jacob are instantly relatable and, by the film’s end, you’re ready to go on more adventures with this core quartet. Moreover, Rowling doesn’t shy away from her themes of tying these stories into socio-economic issues, as Fantastic Beasts dives into anti-wizard sentiment and takes a closer look at a muggle world that attempts to suppress magic as some sort of unforgivable sin.
There’s a swell balance between goofy, fun adventure stuff (and adorable creatures) and the much darker underpinnings of Grindelwald and the Second Salemers that makes Fantastic Beasts a rich moviegoing experience, and Yates revels in the quiet moments that really bring these characters to life. Moreover, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could not have come at a better time. The national mood is down in the dumps and despair abounds, but this story of outsiders and embracing our differences is both reassuring and immensely entertaining.
In short, I’m ready to see at least four more of these. But what about you, dear readers? What did you think of Fantastic Beasts? Did it enrich the Potter mythology or did it simply make you yearn for the previous stories? Did you fall in love with these characters? We want to know what you thought, so sound off in the comments below and click here to read Matt’s full review.