Back in 1997, not many of us could predict the popularity of the Harry Potter series. We never could see the fanbase that would occur, the movies that would be made, and the theme parks that would be built. None of that was even a twinkle in most of our eyes. But now it is 2016, and author J.K. Rowling is giving us another tale from her Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—and it doesn’t feature even a whisper of The Boy Who Lived.
Instead the new film introduces us to magizoologist, Newt Scamander (played by Academy Award winner, Eddie Redmayne) as he travels to America and accidentally sets his beloved creatures loose on 1920’s New York City. Though that seems like a simple plot from the mere description, Rowling’s first dip into the screenwriting pond weaves various other storylines throughout Newt’s whimsical Big Apple journey—breathing a different sort of air into a cinematic universe that needed something fresh.
The strokes that director David Yates, Rowling, and the rest of the production team give to the overall Wizarding World is nothing huge or garish, but rather is like a fine wine of whimsy and even—dare I say—some maturity for the beloved franchise. It doesn’t exactly improve upon the majestic world of Platform 9 3/4 and weird flavored jelly beans, but it adds just the right amount of sophisticated and layered fluff at every turn.
This is the most evident within the art direction, which blends the elements that Harry Potter fans have grown to love (especially within the titular Beasts) with the art deco charm of the 20’s—creating a sort of Old Hollywood take on Rowling’s world. This concoction works throughout every aspect of the movie—down to the tiniest of details and character portrayals.
Newt acts as the Cary Grant of the story—handsome, heroic, but just as equally awkward and even annoying. His match is met with Tina (Katherine Waterston)—an Auror (or officer) working for the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America). She acts as the Norma Shearer type, who brings about a slight tinge of coldness, with a warmth that only bursts out when she lets her guard down. On the opposite spectrum is her sister Queenie (Allison Sudol), whose bubbly nature pours out of her every being, making her a 1920’s rendition of Marilyn Monroe for sure. And then there’s the final member of the group, our No-Maj (or Muggle) of the story, Kowalski (Dan Fogler)—who takes on the Jack Lemon or even slight Jimmy Stewart spot in the gang.
Together this group provides a dynamic that was hard to not fall head-over-heels for, and gives promise to the future of this new series of Wizarding films. Hopefully Rowling realizes the lighting in a bottle she’s conjured up with these four, and doesn’t destroy one of the greatest things that Fantastic Beasts has going for it.
A similar phrase cannot be said for the villains, giving an example of too many evil cooks in the plot kitchen. Each of the players have their moments, and when certain ones are discovered through some Scooby Doo-like acts near the film’s conclusion, their strategy makes slightly more sense. But if Rowling was allowing a co-writer on these future films, they hopefully can guide her away from her beloved gang of McGuffins and rather focus primarily on one mystery for the audience to solve.
This also can be said when it comes to the overall editing of the movie—which at times reeks of childish mistakes (particularly in the scene with two characters walking towards each other) and the inclusion of some character moments over others that were more deserving—even to the point where an entire set of No-Maj individuals could have been eliminated and the movie would be none-the-lesser for it—and made it have a much smoother running time, to boot!
But this all boils down to the easy question—could this become as beloved a film series as Harry’s stories were? There is a likely possibility, but it is completely within Rowling’s hands. And considering her recent on-and-off track record within the fanbase and her handling of her own universe, it’s easy to be nervous thinking about the future adventures of Newt and these other Wizarding characters. But when certain Beasts come into play, it’s easy to see that the world we grew to love in 1997 is still alive and kicking—whether set in the past or otherwise, Rowling’s stories are still a pleasure—and magical place—to visit.