The highly anticipated prequel to J.K. Rowling’s wildly successful Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, premiered on Nov. 18. The movie was met with overwhelmingly positive responses from critics and audiences alike. Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne expertly plays the film’s main character Newt Scamander, wizard employee at the Ministry of Magic and future author of the Hogwarts textbook for which the movie is named. The movie also stars Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman and Colin Farrell in supporting roles, with a special cameo from Johnny Depp.
From the outset, this prequel is different from its famous predecessors. Unlike the Harry Potter series, which takes place exclusively in England, this movie opens up in New York City. It follows Newt as he lands in New York en route to Arizona and accidentally swaps bags with Muggle—or “no-maj”—Jacob Kowalski, played by Folger. The catch? Newt’s bag isn’t your typical luggage, but an expanding suitcase full of magical creatures. Jacob accidentally releases several of the creatures into the city and they work together to help track the missing beasts.
Newt was often mentioned in passing in the Harry Potter books and movies because his book, which details different types of magical creatures, was a staple Hogwarts textbook. This movie, however, is an opportunity to delve deeper into a tiny facet of the magical world of Harry Potter, forming Newt into a fully developed character with his own adventures, missteps and sidekicks.
The film is refreshing in its ability to avoid classic slip-ups often taken when popular movie franchises attempt to continue their success by drawing out the series. This can often result in poor direction, lack of audience interest and subpar storytelling.
With a series as widely renowned and successful as Harry Potter, this is an issue that could have easily come up in Fantastic Beasts. The charm of the original series is one that simply cannot be replicated, and this fictional world continues to enrapture audiences around the world today. The magic of the Harry Potter series lies in its novelty, and any attempt to recreate that may take away some of the enchantment.
But this is absolutely not the case in Fantastic Beasts. The prequel manages to avoid falling into these typical Hollywood sequel/prequel tropes.
Its stunning visuals and rich mythology come together in a way that makes the franchise entirely its own, but at the same time brings along with it the familiarity of a world many people around the globe have come to regard as a second home. The fundamental essence of the Harry Potter world is present, but this movie manages to stand independent of Harry and his circle of friends.
Newt was never a central character, or even supporting character in the original franchise; rather, he was a background figure. By giving him his own movie and by exploring the different facets of Harry Potter’s magical world—which so many long to be a part of—Rowling and her team are able to bring joy to magic lovers everywhere, all without exhausting a story that has already been told.