Review: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them Expands A Familiar Universe
Title: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Director: David Yates
Summary: The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
I was massively into Harry Potter when the books and movies were first coming out. While I don’t think all of the movies work by the end of the series, I found myself thinking about Harry Potter the same way I think about a lot of “big universes”. I start to wonder what else is going on when we aren’t focused on the main characters. Star Wars is giving me this new angle when Rogue One comes out, but I get this new angle from Harry Potter in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. I was concerned, though, because there is a chance that spin-offs will end up making a world seem smaller rather than larger.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them shows us a new angle to the Harry Potter universe while feeling like a whole new story.
The thing that I believe might annoy people a lot about Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is that it very much feels like a set up. In the world of movies that are greenlit for sequels long before they are even finished, a sure property like Harry Potter makes practically a guarantee that sequels are going to be made. It’s sort of like how I forgive The Force Awakens for not having much of an ending, either, because I know more is coming and I forgive the massive amount of worldbuilding here for the same reason. There is a story told here but the story feels almost secondary as the movie is mostly setting up this new part of a world we already know. It works, though, because Rowling really knows how to create a world using everything from terminology to the differences in wizarding culture from Britain and America.
The film is carried by a very charming cast that seems more eager to jump into this world than the audience does. When something like Harry Potter comes back the people involved are fans that have been dreaming about this their entire lives. While I’m sure the various cast members didn’t see themselves in these roles, the very idea that they are able to play in this sandbox and how grateful they are for it is contagious. They are excited to be here and their excitement carries into their performances. Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, not as a dashing hero but as an awkward nerd who cares far more about the health and safety of his animals over the actual events going on in New York.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them does something that I wasn’t expecting and that was have a fair amount of restraint when it comes to callbacks to the Harry Potter books. Dumbledore is mentioned along with Hogwarts, but that is really all that is. The movie doesn’t linger on the books, it shares a universe with them, and that is a good thing. Much like how the Marvel movies all take place in the same universe yet all have different tones, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them doesn’t try to be the Harry Potter movies. It follows adults and thus lacks the childlike view of the world that the Potter movies (moreso the beginning of the series) had in favor of a stark and more grounded look at the world. There is some of that childlike awe, but it mostly comes in the form of the beasts and how the characters react to them.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a Harry Potter movie that takes the universe we all know so well and expands on it. It takes us to a new time and a new place while remaining true to the core DNA of the original series. It isn’t trying to be a Harry Potter movie, though, and instead becomes something new that I’m looking forward to exploring.