Despite being a massive Harry Potter fan, I was late to the game watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But I finally saw it a few weeks ago and loved it, in large part because of all the new things the film brings to that universe. From history to character insight to a new wizarding world, there was just so much more to this film than I really anticipated.
The actual production and acting in this film were amazing – Eddie Redmayne was great as Newt and I surprisingly loved Colin Firth as Graves, although I could have done without the creepy relationship between Graves and Credence. The costumes were so amazing and I would love to have Newt’s blue coat. And the special effects that created the beasts were so incredible. It was so much fun to meet all the creatures because other than a select few in the Harry Potter books and films, we don’t really meet that many magical creatures.
One of my favorite parts was actually just a few seconds of dialogue – the tiny comment about Albus Dumbledore, in which we find out that he had immense faith in Newt, even after he had been expelled for apparently letting some beasts loose. This, of course, is a notion that Dumbledore repeats with Hagrid. While he’s a flawed and complicated person with his own regrets and mistakes, it’s evident in just that small comment and with his actions around Hagrid that Dumbledore honestly cares and has faith in people. (Also, I assume that Hagrid getting expelled for the same reason is happening just a few years after this?)
But I think my favorite part of the movie was Newt’s brief case and his immense compassion for magical creatures. I was nervous about Newt as a main character to be honest, although I don’t really know why. He’s a lovable and caring character, evident in not only how he treats his creatures but especially in how he treats others. Plus, despite having been expelled from Hogwarts, he still managed to do what would be some rather complicated spell work to create a world in the case for his creatures and being able to explore that in this film was amazing. As a person with an immense love for non-magical animals and the magical world, this movie was literally perfect for that reason.
As much as I love this movie, the ending felt off to me. I can’t really put my finger on why it bothered me so much but Robyn and Bayana of the podcast #WizardTeam and Black Girls Create have an episode about the film and talk about how the ending felt like they were trying to force a tie in to the next few movies. For the most part, the rest of the story works. Some of Newt’s creatures get lost, an unrelated problem is happening in New York but blamed on the creatures, and Newt and company have to get all the creatures back as to prove that they’re not at fault.
That would have been a great movie but the addition of Grindewald just felt very forced, as it just seemed like an addition by executives as a way to set up the rest of the four movies that are coming later on. It reminded me of the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron when Thor leaves at one point to go swimming in that weird pond. Both felt out of place and only there because they wanted to tie in other stories. In Fantastic Beasts, it would have made more sense if Graves was a follower of Grindewald rather than Grindewald disguised. Also, I definitely don’t want Johnny Depp in the Harry Potter universe and the idea that they wanted someone with fame is complete bonkers.
At the same time, it also really bothered me just how white this movie was. Yes, there were very few background characters of color and Carmen Ejogo plays Seraphina Picqury but still, most of the characters in a large portion of this film were white. And the way they marketed this movie made me think that Seraphina would actually play a bigger role but she was only in a couple scenes. A few months ago (before the movie had even come out), Marama Whyte wrote about why the cast of this movie didn’t need to be all white and stated in particular that:
If Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is a historically accurate story that happens to have fantasy elements then the casting should reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the period. If it is a fantasy story that includes historical elements but isn’t strict about accuracy then there is no reason for the casting to not reflect the diversity of modern audiences. On either front, it has failed.
This film brings up so many questions for me, particularly around the international wizarding world because we don’t really see a whole lot about the outside world in the Harry Potter series. Where was the international world when Voldemort was terrorizing Britain? Was Voldemort just focused on Britain or was gaining power there just the beginning of his plan? What else is going on in the world while this movie happens? What is the rest of the wizarding world like?
If the laws segregated the magical world and muggle (no-maj) one are so strict in the US, how are muggleborns dealt with? (A point brought up in one episode of the #WizardTeam.) How did Newt manage to keep his wand if he was expelled? And similarly, how did he get a job with the ministry if he was expelled from the only magic school in Britain? What is happening with the elder wand at this point in the movies? Did Grindewald have possession of it when he was captured at the end of it?
As this is one of the first real introductions into the wizarding world of the United States, it’s impossible to not talk about the criticisms about how JK Rowling has handled race in this world, particularly in relation to native and indigenous magic. Much of this criticism lies outside of this specific movie, especially since a large part of the story behind the wizarding world in the US was released months ago on Pottermore. Some really great places to read more about this include:
- Dear JK Rowling, I’m concerned about the American Wizarding School. – Dr. Arienne Keene , Native Appropriations
- What J.K. Rowling’s New Story Can Teach Us About Cultural Appropriation – Claire Fallon, The Huffington Post
- JK Rowling Under Fire For Writing About ‘Native American Wizards’ – Alison Flood, The Guardian
Ultimately, I loved this movie but it’s not without its flaws and weird moments. As nervous as I was for Eddie Redmayne and Colin Firth as their respective characters, I was blown away by their performances and I wish that we would get more of Newt as a main character. This movie also brought us into a new era of Harry Potter and into a brand new wizarding world. While I’m so excited to have a wizarding world in the United States, there’s so much about this new world that’s questionable and problematic. Part of that was shown in the Fantastic Beasts movie with how black wizards and witches might be integrated but another part is also about how Rowling has written about native and indigenous magic. It will be very interesting to see where the next four movies take us.