David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is a textbook example of cinematic escapism. What is cinematic escapism?It’s when someone checks out a film not because it’s the best film but because it transports the audience away from the trials and tribulations of everyday life (these days that’s not a bad thing). With all the political upheaval and turmoil that seems to be dominating the news, it’s nice to have a distraction that’s a delightfully engaging narrative which lifts the spirits of audience members.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them finds it’s origins in the Harry Potter Universe. Why the sudden interest in diving back into a universe that we saw reached its conclusion five years ago? Harry Potter just isn’t a movie franchise; it’s a cultural phenomenon. Whether it’s magic wands, a Horcrux, or a patronus, fans crave anything that is remotely associated with the world of Harry Potter.
This is the film is inspired by a textbook that was first seen in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. The book was written by “magizoologist” Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), and it chronicles all the magical creatures that he’s encountered in his travels (including ones he’s even rescued). Newt goes to America in search of a new creature whose details he would like to add to his ever expanding reference work and bumps into Jacob (Dan Fogler). They soon partner up with Tina (Katherine Waterson), an ex-investigator for MACSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) and her sister Queenie (Allison Sudol) who is a mind reading flapper.
The film is set in New York during the 1920’s. A period where wizards and “no-maj” (people who don’t have any magical abilities) lead separate lives. There is growing sentiment among a select group of “no-maj” who believed wizards should be suppressed. While this is unfolding, the head of security for MACUSA, played by Colin Farrell, has no interest in investigating the reports of these rogue “no-maj” groups as he’s focused on learning more about the “dark arts.” Farrell’s character seems to have taken a particular interest in Gellert Grindelwald, a powerful dark wizard who went to hiding after reigning terror in Europe.
It certainly was intriguing to see Yates tackle themes that were uncharacteristic of previous Potter films. While Scamander certainly wants to research as many magical creatures as possible for his new book, he’s motivated more by his love for the animals themselves. Even when the case that he holds them in is confiscated during his arrest by the MACUSA, his only concern is whether or not his animals would be harmed. When he put himself in harm’s way (in hopes of tracking down Farrell’s character), he makes sure that first and foremost his animals are taken care of.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them also provides a unique commentary on race relations. For example, we have wizards, “no-maj,” and the faction of “no-maj” that wants to suppress the wizards. The Wizards are dedicated to keeping things separate and know that if they are discovered that it would be an all-out war. The “No-maj” are for the most part oblivious to the world of wizardry. However, when Jon Voight’s character finally realizes what’s going on, he wants them “taken” down. The faction of “No-maj” who believes in the suppression of the Wizards power and most important of assimilation show no willingness to listen to reason. Not one of these “groups” takes the time to figure out how to co-exist with one another. One could indeed extend the argument to our world, where most of our issues with race stem from a lack of understanding.
This is the first screenplay that J.K. Rowling has crafted for the Harry Potter Universe. I was taken back but how richly developed the characters were and furthermore how intricate the connections were from this film to the Harry Potter Universe. For example, there’s a scene where Newt is talking with Queenie, and she finds out he has a former girlfriend at Hogwarts who has the last name of Lestrange ( yes, that family). Hardcore Potter fans and average fans of the series should enjoy this film. If nothing else, escaping the trials of life for a few hours will be a welcome break for all.