Film Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Is the Hufflepuffiest Movie

review

{All images courtesy the Fantastic Beasts’ Facebook page}

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by J.K. Rowling (loosely based on her book of the same name), directed by David Yates. Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright 2016. (Seen November 17, 2016.) (This review was also published on SciFi4Me.com.)

fantastic-beasts-newt-and-animal

It’s been five years since we last saw the Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling on screen. Since then, however, we’ve seen the creation of Pottermore, the online website of Rowling’s related projects, as well as the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a sequel about Harry Potter’s youngest son which has received … shall we say mixed reviews from fans.

And then in 2013, Warner Bros. announced that Rowling was writing a script based on her book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As with most genre movies, it’s intended to be a series of movies (five in total). A prequel to the Harry Potter books, the movies are set around 70 years prior to the events in those books, and will cover a 19 year span and the first wizarding war.

As with all series, we have to start somewhere, and this movie starts in 1926, with our shy hero, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). There’s a lot of plot here, but only minor spoilers, so hang onto your wands.

Fresh off the boat in New York City, Newt accidentally runs into the muggle/No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) due to one of the animals in his suitcase (a Niffler, in this case) deciding to escape and wreak havoc. Kowalski works at a cannery, but is at the bank for a loan in order to open a bakery. When Newt gets arrested by demoted Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), he tells her he’s on his way to Arizona to buy a magical creature. However, he accidentally had swapped suitcases with Kowalski, so he needs to get it back.

Meanwhile, Tina tries to take Newt to the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), but President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and Director of the Magical Security Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) are more concerned about something else.

At the same time, Graves is involved with a family of No-Majs who are convinced that witches live among them – a mother who has adopted several children, including Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) and Modesty Barebone (Faith Wood-Blagrove). Graves is trying to rescue Credence, as he is in search of the host of an Obscurus, a force that is created when a young person with magic is forced to hide their powers.

The family that prays together ... uh ... gets creepy together?
The family that prays together … uh … gets creepy together?

Tina, who also has had dealings with Credence, introduces Newt and Jacob to her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who reads minds. She starts to develop a bit of a friends-to-romance story arc with Jacob.

We find out that Newt is actually a protector of magic creatures, that he keeps them in a bit of a zoo/preserve in his suitcase. The rest of the movie is watching Newt and Jacob continue to try and catch all of Newt’s escaped animals, all while the plot with the Obscurus becomes more intertwined.

Into (sort of) battle!
Into (sort of) battle!

I admit: I have conflicted feelings about the Harry Potter world. I even hesitated going to Platform 9 3/4 when I was in London (I did end up going). I also have problems with the characterization of Snape and Dumbledore, and wasn’t quite sure what to think of Rowling’s end.

As a result, I only recently joined Pottermore (and was confirmed that I am a Ravenclaw), and based off what I was hearing from friends have no desire to read Cursed Child (although I’d be open to seeing it as a theatre person).

I went into Fantastic Beasts with a bit of trepidation. Would I be able to handle this movie? Would it be more of what I liked about the Harry Potter series, or more of what I didn’t like?

This is a movie about (and for) Hufflepuffs.
This is a movie about (and for) Hufflepuffs.

While many of the reviews that have come out have complained about how ‘nothing happens’ and that it feels disjointed, I actually argue that that’s kind of the point. Newt (and if you believe this video, Redmayne himself — head’s up that there is some bleeped adult language) is a Hufflepuff through and through. And this movie is very much in the Hufflepuff vein.

What do I mean by that? It’s a subtle movie, where it’s more about the people than what they do. It’s more about relationships than about events. It’s about the friendships that develop between Newt and Jacob, as well as between Newt and Tina, and of course the relationship between Jacob and Queenie.

Fantastic Beasts is laying the groundwork on a slow build storyline that needs to last five movies. It reminds me of those fan fictions I read where it’s just the main characters doing ‘normal’ stuff. It’s about having patience. It’s nice to get away from these plotlines where the world is in danger, and focus instead on smaller stories that still matter.

The part of the movie that squidged me.
The part of the movie that squidged me.

Hufflepuffs are about loyalty, and this is a movie about Newt not wanting to obliviate Jacob just because he is a friend; it’s about Tina realizing that Newt may have a point to what he’s doing; it’s about trying to save someone even when they are doing damage.

Now, is it perfect? No. It’s far too white for the 1920s in Harlem, and the female characters take a while to become developed. If you’re expecting an action sequence every 15 minutes like certain movies, then you’re going to be disappointed. This is a movie where you sit back and revel in the glorious CGI animals that Newt encounters (and cares for), and where you slowly fall in love with him as a character, in his shyness and patience and dedication. In other words, you’ll enjoy it if you watch it like a Hufflepuff would.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opened November 18, and is still playing in most theatres. For more information about the film, visit the official website.