Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of fantastic beasts frankness is its stubborn refusal to capture the magic of the past Harry Potter series.
the Harry Potter film franchise was a minor cinematic miracle. The films follow the central cast through their school life, with eight films by four directors released over the decade between 2001 and 2011. In a very real sense, the films invited audiences to watch Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) , Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) grow before their eyes, a fantastic riff on Richard Linklater’s central premise Childhood.
The eight films evolve over time, with four composers, six cinematographers, and five editors each allowing for changes in style and tone from adventure to adventure. The films begin as relatively light family adventures and morph into a more nerve-wracking apocalyptic spectacle for young adults. Ralph Fiennes does not appear as the series antagonist Lord Voldemort until the climax of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firethe fourth film in the series.
The effect is cumulative. Director David Yates’ darker approach to the end of the franchise only works because it exists in contrast to the innocence Chris Columbus brought to the first two films. While critics of these early films claimed that they “hanging outand were “more concerned than they should be about omitting something“Columbus movies allow audiences to get a feel for both the characters and the world before it all goes downhill midway through the series.
Since the end of the Harry Potter film franchise, author JK Rowling explored various avenues to expand the franchise. There have been theme park expansions, with the opening of Wizarding Worlds at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in June 2010 and at Universal Studios Hollywood in April 2016. There were plays, with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch at the Palace Theater in July 2016.
the fantastic beasts Franchising is an important part of this expansion. The first film in the series, fantastic beasts and where to find them, was adapted by Rowling from an in-universe manual she had written in the character of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). As its title suggests, the book was a guide to the larger world of Harry Potter, featuring a myriad of imaginary and magical creatures. The book was praised by Entertainment Weekly for its “richly detailed history lessons and witty debate.”
One of the most frustrating aspects of the film adaptation of fantastic beasts and where to find them is that it largely avoids the sense of fantasy or magic of early Harry Potter stories, instead of jumping straight into the high-stakes apocalyptic spectacle. It’s disappointing because there are a lot of potentially interesting elements at play. fantastic beasts and where to find them theoretically takes audiences to uncharted corners of the wizarding world.
Obviously, the films are period pieces set in the interwar period. It’s a compelling aesthetic to layer on the franchise, even if the Hogwarts setting of the previous Harry Potter movies have always had a certain timeless quality to them. More specifically, the two fantastic beasts the films are set outside the UK, with Newt visiting New York in the first film and Paris in the second film. There’s a sense in which these movies build a literal wizarding world.
More than that, the central premise is surprisingly surreal and suitably distinct from the logic of the Harry Potter movies. the Harry Potter the movies were about teenagers going to school, while the fantastic beasts the films focus on a “magizoologist”. Theoretically, Newt has a radically different perspective on the wizarding world than any of the characters in the Harry Potter movies, with a career that takes him on very different adventures in very different parts of the world.
There is also another distinct sensibility at work here. There’s a sense of Rowling and Yates riffing on Doctor Who for an American audience. It is not a surprise. After completing his work on the Harry Potter frankness, David Yates boasted that his next project would be a Doctor Who moviesomething that then-showrunner Steven Moffat was fired. Moffat’s predecessor, Russell T. Davies, had asked Rowling to write for the show and even considered cast her as herself for a cameo.
With his old-fashioned dress, absent-minded manner and distinctive bow tie, Newt Scamander is reminiscent of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), who headlined Doctor Who between January 2010 and December 2013. Rumors circulated that the production team wanted Cast Smith in the roleleading to a bizarre situation where Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne spent nearly half a decade doing a Matt Smith impression.
The most interesting aspects of fantastic beasts and where to find them feel inspired by Doctor Who, specifically an extended trip inside the suitcase Newt carries with him. Like the TARDIS, the suitcase is larger on the inside. There’s something whimsical about it. “What did you do today, Jacob?” wonders baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). “I was in a suitcase” The suitcase contains countless enclosures, each housing some kind of magical creature.
It’s a short streak, but it’s magical in a way the rest of the franchise never allows itself to be. Indeed, it’s tempting to read the sequence as a metaphor for the art of cinema, something the film reinforces with the matte painting and fabric backdrops that close off each individual ecosphere. Newt’s suitcase is similar to a green screen studio, a space that can be anything he needs.
Unfortunately, fantastic beasts and where to find them has little room for that kind of magic or exploration. Yates directs the film much the same way he directed the last Harry Potter films, creating a desaturated world of striking contrasts. It is possible to read this aesthetic choice as a subtle nod to German expressionism, especially since the film takes place in the shadow of an imminent war against fascism, but all this is of a serious and suffocatingly serious.
The eponymous creatures are treated as a sideshow rather than the main event. When a few escape from Newt’s suitcase, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) uses the ensuing chaos to cover up a much more sinister plot. “Graves always insisted that the disturbances were caused by a beast,” says Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). “We need to catch all of your creatures so he can’t keep scapegoating them.” That’s it. Fantastic Beasts is a subplot in their own film.
The issues in fantastic beasts escalate dramatically. The film’s climax features a massive attack on New York City, a sequence that would feel more at home in a superhero blockbuster than a Harry Potter movie. There is a feeling that fantastic beasts and where to find them knows that this level of carnage is unsustainable; things are so bad that the only way for New York’s wizard population to continue to function is to erase the memory of every non-magical human in town.
it doesn’t help that fantastic beasts and where to find them is so devoted to its internal lore that the film continues for 20 minutes after this climax. It’s obvious that Yates and Rowling are building a franchise. After the film’s climax, the villainous Graves is revealed to be Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) in disguise. Newt carries a photo of Leta Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz. This is all lore building and sequel preparation that has nothing to do with the movie itself.
the fantastic beasts films exist largely as containing silos for the exposition of the mythology of Harry Potter. The following, The Crimes of Grindelwaldcuts out for 10 minutes so Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) can explain Credence Barebone’s (Ezra Miller) backstory, only for the film to immediately follow that with another 10-minute sequence in which Leta Lestrange then describes the story of Credence real pass. It’s not visually interesting or narratively compelling, but the film commits to it.
It is often difficult to know exactly what fantastic beasts is meant to be, beyond an expansion of the existing Harry Potter brand that was stubbornly willed into existence against all common sense. While fantastic beasts and where to find them released at solid reviews and one a promising box office, The Crimes of Grindelwald received a decidedly colder critical and commercial Home. Nevertheless, Warner Bros. seems determined to do fantastic beasts an epic five-film saga.
At its best, the Harry Potter franchise was movie magic in the purest sense. Until there, fantastic beasts failed to regain any of that magic in any meaningful way.