REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The eerie chiming of the well known theme tune. The unnerving screen of fog, with the familiar Warner Brothers logo emerging into view. The giddy excitement we’ve all known since we can remember (or rather, 2001, when the Philosopher’s Stone was released). The subliminal sense of disappointment is hardly surprising when instead of the treasured Harry Potter and the… floating into vision, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them greets them instead.  But that is where the disappointment ends. Immediately, devoted fans are gratified with the characteristic magical newspaper pan, setting the scene of the magical 1920s American community, referring to memorable names that instantly grab our attention. Prior to its release, enthusiasts worried that the return to the magical would see a dramatic decline in devotion to detail, feeling it may be a merely production for the sake of producing, or rather, for the sake of fiscal profit. This couldn’t be further from the case, as Fantastic Beasts strikes the perfectly endearing balance between using the popular spells, favourite beasts (the Niffler made even the most masculine of men coo) and household names, and the introduction of new concepts, such as shady goblin-run bars, the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic, and of course, the magical world outside of Hogwarts, albeit largely inside a Tardis-esque suitcase.

The underhand digs between magical societies, such as the spat between which is the better school, and the American colloquialisms that Newt failed to recognise evoked a distinct sense of protectiveness in the ‘Potheads’ of the audience (‘Muggles’ is infinitely better than ‘No-Maj’), and consequently, the prequel was able to establish itself in the magical world without spoiling the pre-existing understanding of it. It played on its relationship to the cherished seven-part series without trying to be an integral part of it. Furthermore, any accusations of Rowling selling out to the American market is happily mistaken, if anything, the film depicts our dear neighbours as the restrictive, regulation-obsessed villains who ultimately advocate the death of a troublingly repressed wizard, arguably playing their film-industry at their own game. In this regard, the plot is considerably darker than the trailer originally lets on.

Of course, there are delightfully playful scenes of farce and fantasy, but it is clear that producers knew that like Harry Potter, their principal audience had grown up. The film, therefore, was permeated by a darker subplot that ultimately dominated the climactic moment; notions of a wizard-parallel death penalty, the pseudo-racial divide between the magical and non-magical, and the resultant social impact on those developing in such a parochial environment, meant that the overall effect was not one of pure fantastical entertainment, but had the provocative aspects that gave Harry Potter such engaging depth. In light of this abundance of substance, it seemed almost unnecessary to include the potential flutter of romance between Newt and Tina in the last scene, given the barely plausible liaison between Mary-Lou and Kowalski, but it’s a small defect in a film facing a monumental wall of expectation, especially given the fact is leapt that wall with surprising ease and entertainment. Whether a Potter-fan or not, this film is able to appeal to any audience; it plays on fantastical charms whilst balancing the provocative social complexities through a comparable, although magical, lens. Ultimately, the perfect revival of a childhood favourite.

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