Tony from The Flick Fanatic here, filling-in this week for the one, the only, Kathy Kaiser!
This week brings us back to the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter…only 70 years before he attends Hogwarts. In honor of this special occasion, I decided to bring in my fiancé, Jerica, to share her feelings on the film as well. We have spent the last six years enjoying movies together and the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains one of our favorite things to share….
Jerica: When I last journeyed through the Wizarding World, my companions were similar to myself: kids with big dreams, enchanted by the whimsical world that magic offered. It was escapism at its best, and as an adult feeling slightly less enchanted these days, I was eager to dive back in as a devoted fan. Oddly, I didn’t get exactly what I had bargained for with J.K. Rowling’s new creation, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” But fear not, Muggles, it’s not all bad news.
Tony: I couldn’t agree more! Harry Potter was a beautifully-designed “escape” from their own lives for readers and viewers and that was one of my hopes for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Thankfully that is the case, though not in the way I was expecting. I found myself pleasantly surprised and enthralled in the new story; one that I can’t wait to uncover further.
Inspired by a textbook many young wizards thumb through as they make their way through Hogwarts –among other magical schools – “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” explores the many mystical creatures living side-by-side the wizards and the magical community. 70 years before we meet Harry Potter, we are introduced to Newt Scamander, a quirky and charming wizard traveling to America. Within hours of arriving, Mr. Scamander finds his beloved creatures are escaping and wreaking havoc on the No-Maj (American muggles). The plot becomes clear: we will travel with our delightful protagonist as he embarks on a Pokemon Go-style chase of the pesky beasts, though something sinister seems to be lurking about New York and it did not come from Mr. Scamander’s case…
Jerica: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” offers a delightful look at magic in an unsuspecting world, but rather than the non-magical community of Europe, this time we find ourselves at home in the US. With cultural characteristics Americans can relate to, the 1920s spin helps aid the escapist tendencies we’ve always loved about this alternate world. Never talking down to its audience, “Fantastic Beasts” showcases familiar swish and flick spells that will have die-hard’s experiencing a delightful sense of nostalgia.
Tony: The film’s setting fits the tone of the film perfectly. It’s hard to imagine a similar situation in today’s society where one would treat something to different with the kindness that our characters show in the story. I also enjoyed the backstory of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), America’s equivalent to the Ministry of Magic; something I hope we see further divulged in the future. I too found myself feeling nostalgic as memorable charms and spells are performed, and as a few familiar names are mentioned (Dumbledore perhaps??).
Jerica: Unfortunately, it’s not all wonderment. As with all children, the audience that had its heart captured by J.K. Rowling is grown. We are out in the world navigating politics, worrying about livelihood and attempting to make it on our own. We seek success in the workplace and to please our parents in the process. As you will find, these are the same trials faced by many of our main characters. Also, don’t get me started on the obviously heavy religious undertones – our antagonists are borne from the lives of the New Salemers. Yes. New Salemers. Like the religious fanatics who burned suspected witches to death in the 1600s. Our New Salemers live in what clearly looks like an old church, so when it comes to what inspires their tirade against witches, you be the judge.
Tony: I found the New Salemers to be a rather dark plot point in the film, but, after thinking about it, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” does contain some pretty morose subject matter. As the obvious connections to today’s society are apparent, I found myself unbothered by them and fitting to the story. But what did we think of our other new characters?
Jerica: Mr. Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) enters New York with his rattling case of creatures in 1920, not long before the Great Depression. The city he finds is a bustling hub of Americans trying to capture the Dream. The first we meet is Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj who is hoping to leave his drab canning job to open a bakery. In a time where industry is booming and machines can do many times the work of the average man, his dreams are squashed. Mr. Kowalski is an incredible addition to the film; his ignorance to the existence of magic is just what we would hope: he is enthralled and connected to the wizards around him, and he offers what we hope to find in those around us in our daily lives: passionate optimism and kindness. Next, we are introduced to Porpetina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her younger sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol). Tina and Queenie share an apartment in New York and live a charming life as wizarding orphans, reminiscent of our young Mr. Potter, doubled. Tina carries the responsible and cautious tone while Queenie is bold and charismatic, a delightful blend of Harry. As for the rest of the cast, I will leave it to you to watch the film. I am a true believer in revealing as little detail about the film as possible.
Tony: First of all, bravo to Eddie Redmayne! He was given the reigns in a very popular universe with a very large fan base, and the result is outstanding. His foolish charm fits Newt perfectly and he instantly becomes a favorite. Fogler, as the No-Maj sidekick, adds a tremendous amount of comic relief, but relief that fits the times and, of course, the universe. Waterston and Sudol’s characters do just enough to charm you, but, as my fiancé said, they are a “delightful blend of Harry”. While not revealing any more of the plot, I must also recognize Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller on their performances in the film; so dark and mysterious, the two do an excellent job!
Jerica: In summary, what I can tell you that as the frames unfolded before my eyes, I was torn between the sadness of realizing that the story we were seeing had matured just as we had. As children, we were vaguely aware of the struggles that would await us in the “real world,” and so were our young protagonists. The difference was that the beauty of their magical heritage offered a bit of enchantment. This film left me disillusioned. I might lay blame at the feet of our director David Yates. Any true Harry Potter fan knows that the films of the previous series took a noticeably dark and drab turn when Yates was handed the reigns. As he is at the helm of this new series, I expect we may find ourselves in the same predicament. Interestingly enough, for me the saving grace was the new story to be told. Harry Potter eventually had predictability. There were boxes we expected to have checked with each new chapter, novel and film. For “Fantastic Beasts,” we are left open to a brand new tale in the world we already love. While I was frustrated by the realism of this alternate reality, I was still entranced by the costuming, the charming nature and of course, the magic. I am excited to see what will come next, and I know all true Potter fans will be as well!
Tony: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is sure to divide the opinion of fans, but it undoubtedly works as a debut entry in what is sure to be the first of many. Thanks to Redmayne and company, the new batch of characters are lovable and fun, as are the fantastic magical beasts (though cute and eye-appealing, I did find them to become slightly tiresome after a while). The film’s effects and visuals are simply stunning as well! For those weary of the film, “Fantastic Beasts” does an excellent job of blending the new with the old (as discussed earlier with the spells, charms, etc.), but its biggest triumph is allowing you to uncover one of the biggest mysteries we were left with after the first series; how important was Gellert Grindelwald and who exactly was he? That, my friends, is going to be a major aspect of the “Fantastic Beasts” series and I certainly cannot wait to see where this goes next! Is the film perfect? No, but it is filled with endless entertainment and fun, reminding us all why we fell in love with this Wizarding World in the first place!
Do yourself a favor: go see “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” this weekend!