In the Beginning
The year was 2001 and I, like so many other nerds, was suffering an acute case of Harry Potter Fever. I’m sure you’re all familiar with it. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had been released in theaters across the world, making Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson household names. Fans were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, soon to break our hearts into a million, irreparable pieces.
Around the same time a small, somewhat innocuous green book with ‘Property of Hogwarts’ stamped onto its cover found its way into my hands. I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I read and re-read it until the binding started to fall apart, and then read it again. And while there was no story involved per-say, it is an excellent companion to the Harry Potter Universe and helped to expand the lore that I had come to adore. I felt that Newt Scamander and I were kindred spirits. Sure, he’s a fictional character, but our love for strange and wonderful creatures and want for adventure was (and remains) the same.
Fast-forward to the afternoon of November 21st, 2016. This 25 year-old Potter-head has just left the theater after watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them on the big screen for the first time. And she has thoughts. Lots of them. And so it’s my intention to share those thoughts with you here, character by character.
If there’s one thing (besides being an award-winning actor) that Eddie Redmayne is good at, it’s playing gangly, completely adorkable characters you want to wrap in a blanket and protect forever. And Newt Scamander just that: the precious cinnamon roll to beat all precious cinnamon rolls. From the moment he steps foot in New York to when he promises Tina that he’ll deliver his forthcoming book in person, Newt won my heart. But lets start at the beginning —
Whether you’re a wizard, a magical creature, or a No-maj, New York in 1926 is not the friendliest city to find yourself in. Which is exactly what Newt Scamander, the magical world’s preeminent magizoologist, discovers when he stops en-route to Arizona. There are people such as Mary Lou Barebone (leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society), who is first spotted warning a crowd about the existence and danger of wizards and witches, and the no-nonsense MCUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America). The dark wizard Grindelwald is at large and wreaking havoc. And to top it all off, there is a terrifying smoke creature laying waste to the city.
Newt might have come and gone without indecent if it weren’t for a certain charming No-Maj he meets along the way and the escape of some of his magical creatures.
Jacob is, without a doubt, the heart and soul of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s his wide-eyed awe of the wizarding world that propels the film forward, and that I connected to the most. I say this because I felt the same way reading Harry Potter for the first time.
A No-Maj veteran of WWI and aspiring baker, Jacob and Newt meet by chance at the Steen National Bank. Jacob is there to apply for a loan for his bakery. Newt is there chasing a Niffler that escaped from his suitcase (which happens to look exactly like Jacob’s). Just as Newt is about to catch said Niffler he’s forced to disapparate with Jacob in tow, thus introducing the No-Maj to the magical world. Jacob then flees with Newt’s suitcase before he can be obliviated and after returning home loan-less and a little worse-for-wear, accidentally unleashes some of Newt’s creatures.
Rather than have the wizarding world obliterated from his mind forever, Jacob eventually agrees to help Newt get his creatures back. However the two soon realize that it’s much more than a two-man job, and turn to the Goldstein sisters for help.
Tina & Queenie Goldstein
Like Jacob and Newt, it’s really hard not to fall instantly in love with Tina and Queenie Goldstein.
Originally a straight-laced Auror for the MCUSA, Tina is demoted after assaulting a No-Maj woman, Mary Lou Barebone. The reason? Tina discovers that Mary Lou has been beating her adopted son. (I’ll come back to this in a moment). At the beginning of the film,Tina attempts to arrest Newt outside of Steen Bank on account of his being an unregistered wizard and having a suitcase full of illegal magical creatures. Of course this plan fails horribly, and the two soon set out to find Jacob (and Newt’s case). Following this, Tina takes both boys to her apartment, where they’re introduced to her sister, Queenie.
Queenie is very much the opposite of her sister. A Legillimens (mind reader), Queenie has a soft, airy personality that makes her reminiscent of Glinda the Good Witch… or maybe Luna Lovegood. But that doesn’t preclude her from being totally kick-butt, which is revealed when she smuggles her sister and Newt out of the MCUSA. Queenie and Jacob are mutually attracted to each other almost immediately but, sadly, wizarding laws in America prevent No-Maj people and wizards/witches from being together.
Credence Barebone & Percival Graves
Remember the boy that I mentioned being beaten by his adopted mother? Well, meet Credence Barebone. Credence is a deeply troubled young man and a character who, no doubt, will put the enormously talented Ezra Miller on the map even more than he already is. When viewers first meet Credence he’s introduced as a bit of a skulker; a character who hangs out in the shadows, staring from behind his horrible bangs. Credence’s hair and shuffling gait alone made me want to wrap him up in a blanket and tell him that everything’s going to be alright. Not everyone is as much of an a-hole as Mary Lou wannabe-Dimmesdale Barebone.
Credence’s timid personality makes him susceptible to manipulation, which is exactly what happens when he begins meeting with Percival Graves. Percival (Colin Farrell) is the director of magical security at the MCUSA. Graves reveals to Credence in confidence that he has had visions of a powerful wizard known as an obscurial. An obscurial is a young witch or wizard who develops a parasitical magical force as a result of repressing their magical abilities in the face of persecution. Through clever editing and film trickery, we’re led to believe that Credence’s sister is the obscurial – the one truly responsible for the destruction in New York. But lo and behold — after a confrontation with Percival, Credence reveals himself to be the true obscurial.
Sure, he’s Grindelwald. He’s an important character. But he’s also being played by Johnny Depp who is best known for playing… characters. And when it was revealed that a talent such as Colin Farrell’s was seemingly wasted on a one-off disguise for Grindelwald I was… disappointed, to say the least. Especially since Farrell plays such wonderful villains and seemed so at-ease in the Harry Potter universe. My one hope is that we haven’t seen the last of Graves and that maybe we’ll see not as much of Grindelwald. (Fat chance of this happening, but a girl can dream).
In the End
Is Fantastic Beasts a flawless movie? Not particularly. Is it true to that seemingly innocuous green book that found its way into my hands years ago? Again, not really.
Fantastic Beasts is a movie that was clearly meant to pave the way for J.K. Rowling to return to the Harry Potter universe. This is the first of five movies, and felt distinctly like a preamble meant to introduce us to the characters. And it was a helluva lot of fun. So you can guarantee that I’ll be checking in on Newt and Credence when the next movie rolls around, whenever that might be.
Have you seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Have any thoughts you’d like to share? Well, we’d love to hear from you! Feel free to post any likes or dislikes about the film and its characters in the comments section below.