J.K. Rowling: Growing the Potter Family, Returning Fans Home with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Nov 12, 2016

Posted by: Catherine

Fans, HP Cast, J.K. Rowling, Movie Reviews, Movies, Review

When the movie theater darkens, Hedwig’s theme begins to play as the recognizable rusted Warner Bros logo appears out of the clouds. It is enough to send chills down the back of any Harry Potter fan. However, instead of “Harry Potter and the…” following this familial opening, the music changes and the words Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them emerge from the ominous sky. It is clear from the very first minute of the film that J.K. Rowling has brought us back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but–without a novel and very little previous canonical writings–through unchartered territory.


Rest assured, this isn’t nerve-racking; this is exciting. Without a ground-breaking novel setting unreachable expectations for screen adaptations, Harry Potter and non-Harry Potter fans alike will most likely find Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them more enjoyable than the eight Potter films. With J.K. Rowling making her screen writing debut, the films carry the same narrative voice, with all of the finesse and stylistic properties that makes Harry Potter and other Rowling works hugely successful. Fantastic Beasts feels very “Jo”–with its witty lines, complex characters, plot twists, attention to detail and serious themes that echoed throughout the Potter books–in many ways Cursed Child did not. Fantastic Beasts makes up for all that Cursed Child was lacking for many fans, and gives all fans what they love and long for.


Newt, Tina, Queenie, and Jacob are as relatable as Harry and the Hogwarts gang. Queenie and Jacob, with their unlikely romance, will warm the hearts of those in the audience. Newt and Tina, with their rough edges and their lovable vulnerability we all identify with, become as personal to fans in the audience as their favorite characters in the Potter series.


Fantastic Beasts is very much an extension of Harry Potter’s world, pushing the horizon outwards—growing and expanding the wizarding world in many ways Potter fans will appreciate, but will also draw in a new audience and a new generation. While many fans will be returning home, other audience members can enjoy the wizarding world experience for the first time.


SPOILER WARNING: Continue reading only if you want to know what happens in the film. Stop here if you do not wish to be spoiled at all.

The 1920’s American Wizarding World is a completely new experience. We meet new characters, thrown into a new country–a new world–with new challenges. For the first time, Potter fans are given a series that centers on a main cast made up of adults. However, the central quartette of the film (Newt, Tina, Queenie, and Jacob) is reminiscent of the trio Potter fans love while being uniquely independent of Potter. Adults they may be, but they are adolescent at heart. Familiar spells, apparation, similar CGI special effects, and themes of morality and mortality will quickly make Potter fans feel at home once again. The emotional connection that Rowling creates through her plotting and lovable characters resonates, creating moments of joy, comedy, concern and heartbreak for Potterheads and non-Potterheads alike.


Overshadowed by his heroically acclaimed brother Theseus, Newt is a Hufflepuff and an outsider (who had a strong school love with Ledida Lestrange); his character shines through his love and care for magical creatures. Newt’s “prickliness” is smoothed out when he steps into his case, which houses a magical menagerie, to feed the animals housed within or share a loving touch. Newt is as passionate about educating his fellow wizards about magical creatures as any of us are passionate about a cause. When Newt is arrested and wrongfully blamed for disturbances threatening the strict wizarding statute of secrecy in New York, he is separated from his case of creatures. The agony and desperation he feels, being separated from the beasts he loves and concerned for their safety (over his), is genuinely imparted to those watching.


Trouble is brewing before Newt Scamander reaches New York. The film opens with Gellert Grindelwald (read important comprehensive background here) breaking out of Nurmengard (wizarding prison), and a series of newspapers reporting on the terror he is causing—much like newspaper reports on Voldemort activity that flashed through Half-Blood Prince. As Newt enters New York through 1920’s customs, Graves (Colin Farrell)—top auror and advisor to wizaridng President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo)—is investigating the mystifying destruction of an entire no-maj apartment building. While “gas explosions” excuse these magical disturbances, it is clear a powerful dark force is at work before Newt’s harmless Niffler escapes Newt’s case and causes comedic mayhem.


While Jacob and Newt’s accident of switched cases and 5 escaped beasts are a major concern for 1920’s American Wizarding secrecy laws, there are darker forces at work. The escape and re-capture of beasts open up action-packed scenes that are often humorous and uplifting (including a well choreographed Erumpent mating dance, incredibly, hilariously performed by Eddie Redmayne). The dark force causing disturbances throughout the city—killing Senator Henry Shaw and Second Salemer Mary Lou—is not a fantastic beast.


The beasts in the films have been changed since Entertainment Weekly’s coverage of Fantastic Beasts over a year ago. The dark, wispy magical force is not a Lethifold as most fans believed from the beasts EW revealed to be in the film. A Lethifold never makes an appearance. Rather, J.K. Rowling introduces the Wizarding World to Obscurus—dark uncontrollable, host forces that are the nasty results of oppressing magic in very young wizards and witches.


Obscurus develop when a young witch or wizard is prevented from using and harnessing their magic. It bursts forth and becomes incredibly destructive—destroying everything from buildings to human lives. Obscurus live within repressed and abused children who are punished for being born a witch or wizard, often killing them before the age of ten. The powerful force is relatively “useless” outside of a host (repressed young witch or wizard) but still dangerously volatile. An Oscurial isn’t as completely new to the wizarding world as fans may initially think—Dumbledore’s little sister, Ariana, often had outbursts and fits that resulted in death, and ultimately her destruction.


The beasts become transitional tools for the plot as Graves manipulates Credence—an abused adopted son of Mary Lou’s, who contains incredible (almost) uncontrollable, undeveloped magical power—into betraying his adopted younger sister, Modesty, who Graves saw in a vision and believes is a very powerful Obscurus. As tension between Graves and Credence heightens as dark disturbance continue to threaten wizarding security, Graves gives Credence a deathly hallows necklace—the sign of Grindelwald.


Throughout the film, the audience is lead to believe that Modesty is unknowingly causing mass destruction by being unable to control the Obscurial inside of her. Modesty is seen throughout the film singing anti-witchcraft rhymes while playing hopscotch. However, she undermines her abusive “mother” Mary Lou, by discarding Second Salemer pamphlets. When Credence finds a wand under Modesty’s bed, Mary Lou snaps it and asks for Credence’s belt to whip the children. The Obscurus breaks, and the audience is led to believe Modesty kills Mary Lou.


When Credence calls Graves by touching the Deathly Hallows necklace (like Voldemort’s followers touched the Dark Marks on their forearms), a plot twist pulls the audience for a loop. Graves hits Credence and calls him a useless squib, unleashing the Obscurial in Credence. An Obscurial can be contained and controlled with much effort, but Credence freely chooses to let his Obscurial break loose and go on a destructive rampage. Tina and Newt try their best to subdue Credence’s Obscurus and protect him. However, President Picquery orders his destruction and eliminates most of Credence. Credence/the Obscurus implodes in a strikingly similar way as Voldemort did in the end of Deathly Hallows. Both Graves and Tina and Newt are horrified by this for different reasons. A glimmer of hope flickers briefly across the screen, as a small part of Credence/the Obscurus floats away with a sign of life. His survival is only a testament to how powerful a wizard Credence could be.


It becomes clear that Graves is not the prominent political figure from a well-established American wizarding family that he is supposed to be. Throughout the film, Grave’s manipulative treatment of Credence, his use of Newt and Newt’s beasts as a scapegoat for growing chaos, and his interest in using powerful children and unharnessed magical power lay clues for the ultimate reveal in the end: Graves is Grindelwald in disguise.


The film is incredibly satisfying—action packed and touching, with a good balance of dark humor—and a solid independent story. The last 15 minutes of the film also sets up a lot of material for future films. The film leaves Modesty in a destroyed building. The plot does not return to her, leaving the audience wondering about Modesty’s fate–a character whom the casting call for Warner Bros described as possessing “an ability to see into people’s psyches and understand them.” Modesty’s magical abilities are not explored, and she quickly becomes an unimportant character, despite the build up Fantastic Beasts marketing created for her.


When Graves melts down into Grindelwald, fans are also left wondering about the fate of the real Graves—was Graves really Grindelwald the entire film (as it appears), or was there a transition at some point? Either way, within Potter-world canon, Graves is a well-established powerful wizard from a renowned family. Plot holes and cliff hangers are often purposefully created to be readdressed in future films, and we hope Rowling and the Warner Bros. dream team (Heyman, Yates, etc.) address these in the future.


Fantastic Beasts is incredibly thrilling and will not disappoint, no matter the target audience. The passion and hard work put forth by the cast and crew truly pays off. J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hits theaters this Friday, November 18.


The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.