Review: J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Misses Mark

The latest installment of the revived Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which came out on November 18, was a film with a lot of potential. Fantastic Beasts was written by J.K. Rowling herself and based off of an encyclopedic-type book she wrote in 2001 for the charitable Comic Relief fund that was marketed as a “Hogwarts textbook”. Rowling had a clean slate to base the script off of and chose to set the first film of this five-movie installment  in 1920s New York City. It begins when when magizoologist Newt Scamander steps off the boat on the shores of the United States. Upon arriving, he loses track of this collection of creatures who cause mayhem in the city and leads him to meet  Tina and Queenie Goldstein, two New York witches and a No-Maj (the American term for Muggles). They all then begin on a quest to round up the beasts and return them to their rightful place. Along the way, they stumble into the darker world of the Obscurus, a twisted tale of betrayal         and uncertainty.

This movie was interesting and had some redeeming qualities. The magic and the effects were fantastic, though probably better in the regular, non-3D version. The version that I saw fell into the classic 3D issue of relying too heavily on the shock value of the film style. Without the effects, I think I would have liked the film more because I found them to be much too distracting. However, the spirit behind the movie was heartfelt and lovely. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is rooted in J.K. Rowling’s masterful imagination (even marketed as an invitation from Rowling herself to partake in “a new era of the wizarding world”) and from the interactions with the animals it was obvious that the creators had a solid blueprint to build the creatures off of. While they were funny and well crafted, at certain points the film relied too heavily on their presence to further the plot. In one of the earliest scenes, a Niffler escapes from Newt’s briefcase in an American bank. This is the big moment where three of the main characters’ story lines collide, but the importance of this is lost in the shallow humor of the creature stealing the valuables of passersby.

Unfortunately, what didn’t work outweighed what did and left me disappointed and a little sad with the franchise. First and foremost, the character development in the movies was nonexistent. There is very little detail about who the main characters, a ragtag group of four, are beyond the scope of the film. Unlike Rowling’s traditional style of creating elaborate backstories for even the minor characters of the universe, these people felt like barely fleshed out drafts of full characters. There are two “love” stories that are developed, including a strange love triangle that Newt is involved in that lack completion and reality. While the Harry Potter series itself is a rich plethora of information and backstory, Fantastic Beasts felt unfinished and weak: it had big shoes to fill, and fell far short.

Overall, I found this movie to be entertaining but unsatisfying. While the writing enjoyed a wealth of information to draw upon created by Rowling herself and the Harry Potter fan universe, it fell short of delivering something that could come close to the original and felt awkwardly forced. Fantastic Beasts is an exploitation of the Harry Potter universe and fanbase for profits in a hurtful and undeserving way, pandering to both the younger generation who missed growing up with the books, and the American audience that makes up a large amount of the fanbase. The expansion seems to be a half-hearted money-maker, undermining the gravity of the original Harry Potter series. It’s more interested in spectacle than story, wherein lies the true difference between Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts.