A No-Maj Reviews ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ (2016)

In today’s world, there’s pop culture that you may have missed because you weren’t the right age for it. For example, Five Nights at Freddy’s. I’ve asked my friend if he has heard of it and we both agree that we would have enjoyed it back when we were teenagers. Same goes for Pokémon and Fortnite.  My last example is Harry Potter. I’m not an avid reader and I was well into high school when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a great entry point into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I enjoyed rewatching it for my review before the second installment The Crimes of Grindelwald hits theaters today.

Fantastic Beasts has a solid all-star cast.  Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, Colin Farrell as Graves, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, Katherine Waterson as Tina, Alison Sudol as Queenie, Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone, and Jon Voight as Henry Shaw. Sr.

The film is set in 1926 and opens with newspaper headlines covering the trail of Grindelwald’s latest attacks in Europe and the threat he might bring against no majs (the American term for muggle – those that don’t have magic powers). As we get caught up to speed on current events, Newt Scamander has come to New York City where he encounters a meeting with the Second Salemers, a group that is against wizards and other practitioners of magic. Unbeknownst to Newt, his suitcase unlatches and a creature escapes headed into a bank, where he has a chance encounter with Jacob Kowalski. Jacob is our in-film counterpart; he is brought into the world of magic and mystery as we learn the reason for Newt’s visit to America and the affect Newt’s presence has on the city at large.

My favorite scene is the one in which Newt and Jacob travel into the suitcase early in the film. You can truly see the friendship between Jacob and Newt start to blossom during this scene. The viewer also gets to learn about Newt and his previous travels across the globe. Remember the first time you went to the zoo or the aquarium? That feeling is replicated during this scene. I got that feeling of nostalgia and childlike wonder and I chuckled a time or two during this part of the film.

What I liked about the film is that some real world social issues in the world today are presented very mature and not heavy handed. For example: in America, the love between a wizard and a no maj is forbidden and looked down upon. This is an important plot point in the film but I don’t want to give it away. I also liked the real world historical aspects presented in the film. The film shows characters adjusting to life after World War I, the immigration of those leaving Europe for America, and Prohibition.  Another scene that I enjoyed features Newt, Tina, Jacob, and Queenie going to a magical speakeasy.  The first round of Giggle Water shots is on me!

Like the Harry Potter series, the main themes of Fantastic Beasts are family and friendship. Also, the power of believing in yourself and the ability to overcome adversity from all angles. J.K Rowling does a great job creating worlds that are immersive, yet grounded. J.K. Rowling also creates characters that are relatable. She makes readers and viewers feel good about the skin they are in and lets us know it’s okay to be our weird and different selves.

If you are looking for a family film to watch after Thanksgiving dinner has been served, I recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s light-hearted fare with a dose of darkness and danger. Just be warned – you might want to unbuckle your pants before you laugh so hard you bust them!