I am a true Potterhead. Always have, probably always will. I genuinely can’t wait to introduce my future children to Harry, Ron and Hermione’s adventures at Hogwarts. But somehow the little addition to the series, Fantastic Bests and Where to Find Them, has never found itself on my shelf. When I heard that a story based around it was being made into a movie, I was looking forward to it, but not overly excited. To be honest, I would rather have seen some more of the characters I grew up with.
However, there was no way I would have missed out on seeing this movie, so Mr Arguably Honest and I decided to spend our Sunday afternoon on a trip to the cinema to see Fantastic Beasts and, oh boy, was it absolutely fantastic. The movie is set in New York City in the 1920s, and the main character is a newly-arrived Brit, Newt Scamander, who bears a close resemblance to Hagrid when it comes to his love for slightly dangerous (and not exactly legal) magical creatures. The main difference between them? Newt Scamander is unbelievably charming. We meet him when he arrives in New York on a ship (why couldn’t he simply apparate is a mystery to me, though), with a suitcase full of magical creatures and, somehow, in a true Harry Potter universe fashion, gets into a tremendous amount of trouble without really trying to.
There isn’t really anything I didn’t like about this movie. It had fantastic special effects, captivating storyline, great acting, fantastic beasts, some of which you’d want to keep as a pet (and some you’d rather stayed as far away as possible), really good dialogues. But the most important thing, without which this movie wouldn’t be what it is, is magic.
Jacob Kowalski: I don’t think I’m dreaming.
Newt Scamander: What gave it away?
Jacob Kowalski: I ain’t got the brains to make this up.
And I’m so glad J.K. Rowling does have the brains to make this world up. Fantastic Beasts made me realise how little we actually knew about the lives of adult wizards, beside those who taught at Hogwarts or worked at the Ministry. I thoroughly enjoyed getting more of an insight. Including a muggle in the mix (or no-maj, as our friends from the US would call him) was a sure fire way to provide for some hilarious scenes, and proving that muggles don’t necessarily have to be scared of magic, they might also be truly enchanted by it. As a muggle myself (sadly, my letter never arrived), I can really identify with Jacob, who would have joined the magical world if only he could. He was also a great character and the movie wouldn’t be the same without him.
Jacob Kowalski: Aww, I wanna be a wizard.
Newt, of course, stole my heart completely, at the first sight. The combination of boyish innocence, tenderness, messy hair and pale green eyes does it to a girl (though, admittedly, Mr Arguably Honest liked Newt a lot too). I really like how fiercely protective he was of his creatures, convinced it wasn’t them who were causing havoc in the city. And, sure enough, even though his super cute niffler (did anyone else enjoy this relation to Harry Potter? I loved the bow truckle as well, I’d happily have one as a pet) was doing his best to gather as many shiny objects as it could fit in its pockets, Newt’s creatures were, essentially, rather peaceful. With the emphasis on ‘rather’… I also enjoyed the little reminders about the worlds of Newt and Harry being connected – the already mentioned niffler and bow truckle, the talk of Hogwarts and the fact that the only teacher who campaigned to keep Newt at school was Albus Dumbledore (who else would it be, after all), and Grindelwald.
But I think there are two important messages in this movie that Rowling managed to sneak into the screenplay.
The first lesson Fantastic Beasts teaches us is that we should respect animals, help them survive, not fight them. The American Ministry, MACUSA (is it just me, or does it sound a bit like Yakuza, the Japanese mafia?) was quick to assume that what was disrupting the city was a magical creature. They didn’t even want to entertain the thought that it might be something more powerful, and more human. Of course, there aren’t any magical creatures in our world, but there are real ones, and a lot of the human activity interferes with their natural habitat. It may have not been the strongest, or most important message of the movie, but I think it was definitely there.
Newt Scamander: We’re going to recapture my creatures before they get hurt. They’re currently in alien terrain surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet; humans.
The second message Rowling sent us, and one that I know is very close to her heart, is about what can happen to children who are institutionalised. Rowling is a founder of Lumos foundation, which is concerned with transforming the way we take care of orphaned or institutionalised children, replacing the outdated systems with community-based solutions (you can read more about Lumos on their website). Although Credence, an orphaned boy, is not the main character in Fantastic Beasts, he is an incredibly important part of the story. He shows us what can happen to children who feel abandoned, misunderstood, not allowed to grow the way they should, physically punished. Credence could have been a different child completely if he was allowed to be who he really was, to flourish, and his story really shows those of us who were privileged enough to have parents who helped them grow, that there are children in our world, too, who need someone to change their reality.
But I don’t want to end on a sad note. Although there are powerful messages in the movie, it is, first and foremost, tremendously fun. I laughed more times than I expected to, and was gripping Mr Arguably Honest’s arm at times, worried about what will happen to the characters I have so quickly grown to like. I think characters are the strongest point of the movie. They’re properly fully-blooded, and have something to say. From incredibly cute Newt, through Tina, who was removed from her beloved job for caring too much, through Queenie, who is the first ever character who, despite being incredibly cute and flirty, didn’t annoy me in the slightest, to Jacob, who is truly in love with magic.
I urge you to spend one morning, or afternoon, going back to the magical world of J.K. Rowling, to discover a different, more grown up, but no less enchanting part of it. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.
Cover photo source: https://www.warnerbros.co.uk/movies/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them