Y’all, I just went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them yesternight, and it delighted me so much that I have to tell you all about it.
This is far and away my favorite Potterverse movie. I admit that’s chiefly due to the fact that the other 8 have the book-depiction-versus-movie-depiction conflict; the Tale of the Three Brothers might be the only part that I love without any qualms whatsoever because it’s done with such incredible artistry, and in such a fantastic storybook style. So your mileage may vary. Since I’d avoided the trailers and pre-film hype, it’s fair to say that I went in with no expectations whatsoever.
…okay, that is not quite true. Anyone who has talked to me about Harry Potter at length knows that I find the similarities of Dementors and Lethifolds – thin black shroud creatures, one a soul-eater and one a body-swallower, both repelled by the Patronus charm – to be fascinating. I also find the concept of the Nundu (breather of plague, destroyer of villages) to be utterly terrifying. You could make feature-length movies about all three.
This movie had neither Lethifolds nor Nundu, which would be more disappointing if it hadn’t amused me so much. I was probably That Obnoxious Person Who Laughs Too Loud to everyone else in the theater, which leaves me wondering if headcolds or Sudafed render the world more hilarious.
It’s tricky to say why I laughed so much without spoiling it. The hijinx of the animals themselves? The differences between wizard and no-maj (ie, Muggle)? The dance between the sexes? All that, and more.
First off, there are the characters. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is criminally adorable: so winsome and earnest about caring for magical creatures, so cool-headed in the face of dangerous Erumpents or wizards or Things That Should Not Be, so talented at cleanup in the aftermath. Cedric Diggory has nothing on this Hufflepuff.
(…Can I say that? I know, I know, nil nisi bonum mortuis, but really.)
Katherine Waterston as (Porpen)Tina Goldstein is the Hermione of this story, sort of; she also does the Harryish “oh hullo, Person in Position of Authority; I came to tell you something which really was important but you seem to be doing something at least….three times bigger…” thing and getting into trouble. She has her own share of earnest care, especially for [spoiler redacted].
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein is a show-stealer, and at first I thought I’d hate her (a pretty, curly-haired Legilimens who flirts by putting clothes on? Mary Sue alert, y’allll), but then she went and made cocoa, helped drive the metaphorical getaway car, and cunningly disguised said getaway car with “Oh, this? It’s…ladies’ things, d’you want to see?” which made me guffaw. My favorite sort of pretty girl is the one who keeps her composure and disguises her competence when necessary.
Dan Fogler, who plays no-maj Jacob Kowalski, is a brilliant foil to Newt Scamander’s understated “ah yes, recapturing magical creatures, how quotidian” bit. He has all of the childlike wonder, the Muggle’s confusion, the fellow needing just a bit more exposition to grasp the unbelievable things he’s seeing, who then takes everything in stride with panache.
I’d say this movie is essentially lighthearted, though there’s the shadow of both wizard extremists (Grindelwald), Muggle fanatics (the New Salem Philanthropic Society and its witch-hunting goals), child abuse, and secrecy-obsessed Magical Congressmen all about it.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is kind of a misnomer. Kind of, because the textbook is about where these creatures originate, rather than the hunt you have to go on if they escape from your magical suitcase. But then, Fantastic Beasts and Where Not To Set Them Loose (Namely, New York, Because Of Course It Is) (btw, Magic Repression is the Literal Worst; Behold the Reasons Why) is just a tad unwieldy, so I can’t really blame them.
Further thoughts on magic repression, Undetectable Extension Charms, and magical America to come later, when they’re less likely to need a spoiler alert. In the meantime: go see the movie! It’s fantastic.