Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’s opening sequence was the same as all the Harry Potter movies before it, with the Warner Bros. logo emerging from the clouds, followed by the movie title in huge, silver letters. At the familiar, swelling notes of “Hedwig’s Theme” and the iconic shot of a gray sky, I was already close to tears. The unmistakable imagery immediately brought me back to ABC Family Harry Potter marathons, to summers spent locked away in my room re-reading the books. It was overwhelming in the best way to enter that world again.
Of course, Fantastic Beasts diverged significantly from J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter storyline. Set in 1930s New York City, the new release follows Newt Scamander, a magizoologist on a quest to help magical creatures and inform the wizarding public of their importance.
Scamander ends up in deep trouble with the Magical Congress of the United States of America (the American counterpart to the British Ministry of Magic) when he accidentally lets loose several creatures from his enchanted case. With the help of Jacob Kowalski (a No-Maj, the American word for Muggles), Tina Goldstein (a recently fired auror from MACUSA), and Queenie Goldstein (Tina’s sister), Newt must wrestle the beasts back into his case to save New York City from chaos.
Along the way, a darker plotline follows the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group run by a woman who adopts and abuses children to carry out her agenda to eradicate anyone with magical gifts. The society becomes significant to MACUSA when Percival Graves, Director of Magical Security, investigates the possibility that a deadly magical force could have risen within its ranks as a result of a young wizard suppressing his or her powers. This “obscurial” wreaks havoc and even takes a no-Maj’s life, which presents another obstacle for Newt and his friends.
I will acknowledge that I was biased in favor of Fantastic Beasts before I even saw it. Because of the sheer thrill of returning to the Harry Potter universe, I probably would have forgiven a substantial amount of mistakes in the movie. But it simply did not give me any fallacies to fret about. The score, strung through with a few familiar Harry Potter music sections, was uplifting and dark, whimsical and tragic. The casting was flawless, with Eddie Redmayne immediately stealing my heart as Newt and the supporting characters that provided comic relief without feeling flat or fake. And the special effects were breathtaking; if I hadn’t been feasting on popcorn I would have been convinced I was traveling through a magic zoo in a suitcase. In short, Fantastic Beasts surpassed even my most positive expectations.
One of my worries was that, as much as I loved the original series, Fantastic Beasts would rely too heavily on references to the old Harry Potter plot without any real substance of its own. But aside from a nod to Dumbledore and the Lestrange family, Fantastic Beasts stood alone. It seemed determined to prove that its characters could bring originality, vigor, and new life to the cherished wizarding world. I fell in love with Newt and Tina and Jacob and Queenie not because they were related to the Harry Potter franchise, but because they were great heroes in their own right.
With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them serving as a springboard for what is rumored to be a five-part saga, fans everywhere––myself included––anticipate the return of Newt and all his creatures. For even if Hogwarts itself is not present in the films, Rowling has still managed to welcome us home.