New(t) Faces for the Potter Franchise, Mixed Reviews

The release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this past week aroused feelings of nostalgia for many fans that had grown up with the Harry Potter franchise. Debuting at #1 in the Box Office with $75 million in ticket sales, it was evident that the wizarding world, as created under the vision of director David Yates, still held the ability to drive hoards of people to the theaters.

Similar to the novelized script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, released earlier this summer, Fantastic Beasts immersed Harry Potter fans into J.K. Rowling’s world at a different point in time than the main series, creating new opportunities to expand the canon of the books and films. In this case, protagonist Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) finds himself in 1920s New York City as an illicit researcher of magical beasts. 

The movie reads as simple as a children’s book in the premise that it sets up: Scamander loses some of his animals and must find them again before they wreak havoc on the city. The film takes a darker turn, though, as it becomes apparent that a creature called an obscurus—a manifestation of a repressed child’s magic—has begun to destroy New York. This is where the film ties most closely to other aspects of the Potter franchise: though the obscurus is a new creature, its presence is reminiscent of the darker themes of the main Potter franchise, such as the effects of child abuse and the presence of evil.  

Aside from the obscurus, there are several other aspects of the Harry Potter franchise that appear in the film, but these remain strangely unresolved. For example, unlike in the Britain in Rowling’s world, wizards in America are forbidden from socializing with non-wizards, or marrying them. This policy is enacted by the government in the film and explains the “anti-muggle” prejudice that exists in Rowling’s books.

Though Scamander and his comrades protest the policy, they do little to actually create social change, and the policy remains in place by the end of the film. It is the magical creatures and the sense of friendship the characters share that keep the film lighthearted and buoyant, though it feels a bit more loosely put together than the original books and movies.

Though the film was able to draw fans to the box office, it elicited mixed reactions from them. It received 75 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with most of the complaints stemming from the films numerous plotlines. When asked about her opinion on the film, student Bella Ratner SC ’19 responded that "Though it wasn’t my favorite Potter film, I thought it did justice to the world that Rowling created.”

Her friend Ellie Thompson SC ’19 continued, saying, “It was nice to escape back into my childhood for a little bit. I grew up with Harry Potter, and I’ve always loved it.”

This escape into the wizarding world may have come at an advantageous time; with the current political tumult occurring in the United States, people seized the opportunity to step into the wonderful world that Rowling has created.