As we are approaching the close of 2016, it seems no exaggeration to claim that the world is the most divided it has been in decades. The rise of the far-right has increased attacks on minorities, which one can only assume will increase with the election of Trump in America and the growing discord in the UK over Brexit. The outlook isn’t great. However, if one thing can unite people in troubled times of division, it must surely be the work of JK Rowling. When the world needs her most, Rowling is back with her new Harry Potter spin-off film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
In this new adventure inside Rowling’s magical world, we are transported to 1920s New York, far away from the likes of Hogwarts, Harry Potter or Voldemort. Newt Scamander, a charming and softly-spoken ‘magizoologist’ played by Eddie Redmayne, has arrived in New York with nothing but a suitcase full of an extraordinary array of magical creatures. What was initially planned to be a simple trip of magical animal conservation turns into something much bigger, when Scamander meets American witch Tina Goldstein (portrayed by Katherine Waterston). He discovers that there are dark magical forces at tearing apart New York, and joined by Tina, her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and no-maj (the American’s muggles) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), they try to save New York from destruction.
Fantastic Beasts finds the ideal balance between containing the same essence of Harry Potter’s magical world but introduces plenty of new ideas to entice the audience one again. The opening sequence could have come straight from a later Harry Potter film, as the camera flies through the Warner Brothers logo and John Williams’ iconic theme chimes. However, from then on, the film is its own. Whereas Harry Potter was solely set in the UK, Fantastic Beasts introduces the magical world outside the UK. In America, witches are wizards are ruled by the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), which, tragically unlike modern muggle America, is lead by a ‘Madame President’. The Americans also have their own equivalent to Hogwarts: Ilvermorny. Although there is a familiarity with many of the spells, the wonderful magical creatures Rowling introduces have never been seen before in previous Harry Potter films.
Although the film is directed at an audience of all ages, the team behind it seems aware that there will be many Harry Potter fans watching, that have grown up a little since the last films. Fantastic Beasts has a quiet political undertone of tolerance and acceptance: the Second Salem’s are out to get wizarding kind for the sake of them being different to themselves, and in America it seems witches and wizards aren’t allowed to marry muggles, which Scamander describes as backwards. In a film about magical animals, it is especially striking that Rowling seems to be encouraging a little more love towards one another.
It would be easy to question whether this is all just a money-grabbing scheme by Warner Brothers to rake in the cash of the back of the success of Harry Potter. However, after watching the film, it is easy to see that it is from JK Rowling’s sheer love for the world she has created. Each magical creature and idea has the same wonderful depth as those in Harry’s wizarding world, and Rowling’s passion seeps through every scene. There are moments when she appears to get carried away, making some new magical ideas slightly too complex and introducing a few too many weird and wonderful magical creatures, but these are flaws it is easy to look past. In a 21st Century muggle world, it is easy to lose sight of the magic, but in Fantastic Beasts it is laid bare in front of our eyes, in all it’s glory, once again.