“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Fine Them” is an extremely uncommon movie in the Harry Potter series. Not only does it give a backstory to one of the textbooks used at Hogwarts in the main series, it also gives viewers a chance to see Wizarding America. Audiences are so used to seeing Great Britain in the original Harry Potter films, that seeing a story set in Wizarding America (and during the 1920’s) adds a fresh and exciting new extension to the overall Harry Potter universe. The movie also makes great use of the fabulous art styles of the decade. The Art Deco, jazz music, and Model T cars all enhance the film’s New York setting and even make the city more spellbinding than it usually is. The film also manages to make subtle hints at the social issues of the day, including segregation, the death penalty, and Prohibition. These historical references add more depth to a film that’s mainly about magical creatures.
On March 3, Campus Life showed the film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” at the EMU Student Center as part of their “Friday Night Movie” program. “Fantastic Beasts” was directed by David Yates, written by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling and was released by Warner Brothers on November 18, 2016. Filming began in England in August 2015, and was finished in January 2016. The film received positive reviews from film critics, and earned $812 million at the box office, making it the eighth highest grossing film of that year. “Fantastic Beasts” was also the first “Harry Potter” film to win an Academy Award, for Best Costume Design.
In “Fantastic Beasts,” it is 1926 and British “magizoologist” Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is on a trip to the United States to return a kidnapped thunderbird he named Frank to the deserts of Arizona. His first stop is New York City where he sees a protest being staged by the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group of non-wizards who are still angry over the events of the Salem Witch Trials. As Newt is watching the spectacle, one of his creatures escapes from his suitcase and runs into a nearby bank. As Newt chases after one of his creatures, he runs into Jake Kowalski (Dan Folger), a Muggle (or No-Maj to American wizards) who has dreams of opening his own bakery. This chance meeting ends up with them having their suitcases mixed up, with Jake accidently taking Newt’s beasts with him. Jake, not knowing what really is in the suitcase, opens it when he gets home, and unwittingly releases a wide variety of magical creatures into New York City. The Magical Congress of the United States of America (the wizard equivalent of the U.S. government) finds out about this and demands an explanation from Newt while discussing the proper punishments to give him for his mistake. Newt, along with Jake, MACUSA member Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) all go out on a quest to collect all of the beasts before it’s too late.
The use of local legends also gives the film a very different twist that makes it stand out compared to the main series. The thunderbird seen in the film is actually a mythological creature that is sacred to the Native Americans of the Southwestern U.S. The film producers even went as far as to contact local tribes for consultation on how to present cherished traditions in a respectful manner.
Overall, the film’s setting and storyline make this a rare addition to J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.