Image above: Warner Bros.
Back in the fall of 2015, my little humble heart was overfilled with joy as I found out that the one true queen, J.K. Rowling, was bringing the magical world of Harry Potter back to life by giving us all a gift: Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them. At the moment, I (along with hundreds of other people) was thrilled that I would be going to once again be able to immerse myself in the fantastical world that I had grown up with. I remembered the ways in which the Harry Potter series helped shift my attitude from being one of those kids that was “too cool for school” to being the huge book nerd that I proudly am today. I also started to recall the fond memories I created because of it—discussing what house I would be sorted into when I took the Pottermore test or the night I went with my whole family to the release party for the seventh book of the series. You could say that the Harry potter universe was a very important part of my childhood, but truthfully it goes well beyond that. I’m still a huge fan of this book and film series and it’s is still one of my favorite things to turn to whenever I’m stressed or just in need of entertainment. In fact, I still wear my house colors around campus whenever I have the opportunity.
For me and every other kid who grew up within this universe, the announcement of another installment within the Harry Potter world was truly magical (See what I did there?). But like any other love affair, the honeymoon phase started disappearing instead, and the pure joy was replaced by questions. Will this live up to my expectations? Will the new characters be like the original characters? Will this be the same experience that I remember? Well, after watching the movie, I’m delighted to say that the answer to all of these questions is “no”. The movie didn’t meet my expectations; it exceeded them. The characters weren’t just like the old ones—they were original and amazing all on their own. It wasn’t the same; it was brand new and utterly unique.
Unlike Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which received a lot of backlash from long time fans of the series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has become a box office sensation that fans have fallen in love with. The reason for the different reaction is that, unlike The Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts doesn’t feel like a poorly thought-out addition to the original Harry Potter’s series. It’s a new storyline in a new setting with new characters, and while the story retains all of the quirkiness and whimsicality of the original series, it’s certainty very much a world on it’s own.
Without giving too much away for those who still haven’t seen the movie, lets talk about the things that make this tale worth telling. First there’s the setting, which is far more mature than that of its predecessor. This story takes place in New York City during the 1920’s and it has a far darker feel than the original series. This story is packed with political subtexts as it explores one very dark chapter in American history: The Salem Witch Trials. The trials occurred long before the events in Fantastic Beasts ever took place, but we can see the footprint they left on the need that is stressed throughout all of the movie to keep magic a secret from the No-Majs (a term used by America wizards to refer to non-magical folks) at all costs. This went beyond not just showing magic to No-Majs—wizards weren’t allowed to marry or even befriend those outside the magical community. This plot also works as a metaphor for segregation and the damage that social divide can have on a society. Another theme that was subtly worked into the movie was that of the struggle of LGBT+ people. Throughout the movie, there are characters forced to conceal their true magical natures from those around them in order to maintain their own personal safety. This struggle to maintain secrecy is damaging and ends up becoming a self-destructive story that's eerily similar to the tragedies we've seen among LGBT+ youths who have taken their own lives as a result of this secrecy.
But not everything in Fantastic Beasts is dark. One of the movie's best and cheeriest features come from its protagonist: Newt Scamander, who is brilliantly played by Eddie Redmayne. Newt is a nice break from the traditionally unfeeling, aggressive and dominant male tropes we've normalized in action movies. He is not the headstrong protagonist most commonly seen, but rather a quirky and sensitive guy who just loves magical creatures. He knows and cares for every single living being he carries in his bottomless suitcase. He proudly declares himself the “mum” of a group of newly born Occamy hatchlings. He carries around a Bowtruckle in his pocket because the little creature is too clingy to not be with Newt at all times.
His lack of anger throughout the film also belies the male action movie character trope. When Queenie (played by Fine Frenzy) accidentally invades his privacy, he doesn’t lash out at her or react in any violent way. Instead, he just replies by saying: “Please, don’t read my mind.” He is gentle and emotional—qualities that are often portrayed as negative when expressed by a male lead.
So, is Fantastic Beasts the same as Harry Potter? No, and that’s a good thing. The Wizarding World has changed and matured into a more complex place than it was before, and deals with darker and more intense themes than the original movies... but that’s because we’ve grown as well. None of us are children who are anxiously waiting for their Hogwarts letter to come in the mail (although, if mine did arrive, I would not hesitate to accept it), but rather, we’re adults who deal with the complex reality that is life. It seems fitting that, at least this once, our childhood grew-up with us.
Gabriela Morales is a Sophomore at Christian Brothers University and Staff Writer at the Galleon
The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.