Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has a sense of magic about it that has absolutely nothing to do with CGI or mystical creatures. David Yates seems to be catering to the audience that grew up with the Harry Potter franchise, and fell in love with its themes of friendship and the power of good.
This time around, the story revolves around characters struggling to live the lives they want to. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) enters New York with a contraband case of magical creatures, which he has been studying, hoping to educate his fellow wizards of the wild beast’s worth. Newt is an awkward individual, describing himself as unlikeable, but we see him come alive when caring for his pets. His peers are disparaging of his vocation, and we learn he was expelled from Hogwarts, but that has never stopped him from pursuing what he believes he can do: writing a book that will change popular opinion.
It’s fitting that we meet Newt on his entry to New York, in a country tied up in the ideology of the American Dream. He quickly comes across Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a no-maj who works in a canning factory and is struggling to get a loan to fund his dreams of opening a bakery. When Jacob sees Newt’s creatures and acts of magic, Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), a former auror, jumps in and takes them into custody.
These three characters become the centre of the film, and throughout the narrative, J. K. Rowling’s script chooses to dwell on how the character’s dreams are consistently blocked by authority figures: school administration boards, employers, and the bank.
This is a resonant topic for the audiences that were reared on Harry Potter, and now find themselves in the adult world. The narrative created for twenty-somethings was that dreams should be followed: do what you love, and the money will follow. The reality is extremely different, and it’s refreshing to see a story rooted in fantasy acknowledge the frustration its fan base feels. Unsurprisingly, the characters do achieve their goals, but it’s shown as a difficult path – one in which being good at something isn’t enough, they also need ruthless persistence. Waterson’s acting brings particular depth to this, as she nervously brings her concerns to former colleagues and employers, layering a sense of anxiety with a quiet conviction.
Rowling and Yates have chosen to teach their audience about relationships, romantic and platonic, rather than having love interests merely for the sake of it. Redmayne’s nervous disposition lends itself well as hints of a past relationship are pulled out, one in which he always came second.
The main characters support each other’s pursuits, whether it is setting a creature free in the plains of Arizona or baking fresh doughnuts by hand every morning. The moral in the tale is that the partners we choose in life should support us as much as we support them. Sometimes that means letting people we love go, because they are unhealthy for us, even if we struggled to leave the memories behind.
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In a story about adults, and seemingly for adults, the wicked entity of the film is more nuanced than the uncompromising evil of Lord Voldemort. When destruction is wrecked upon New York, it has its roots in the religious ideology and oppression of the New Salem Philanthropic Society. This cult is given enough screen time to allow the audience to understand how rage can fester and build to something uncontrollable.
The film is an accomplishment because it rises above its stunning visuals: the special effects always come in second to the actor’s performances, and the well-woven story. It stands as a well-made film in and of itself, and does not rely on being a Harry Potter spin-off.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in cinemas from Thursday 17th November.
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