By Kirsty Danks
When JK Rowling published Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 2001 in aid of Comic Relief, little did we know that this simple textbook of magical creatures studied by Harry and Ron would, fifteen years later, be converted to Rowling’s first screenplay, bringing us brand new characters, a different era and country and of course, new magical creatures to discover. She is on top form as ever in her humorous and intelligent writing – the characters have depth and emotion, their relationships are both amusing and affecting in their growth throughout the film.
We are introduced to 1920s New York as we steam in on a large ocean liner, and spot our main character, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), for the first time. He is a quiet, kind and eccentric individual who seems to know how to interact better with his many magical creatures than he does with his fellow humans. The quiet grumbling from what appears to be his ordinary brown leather suitcase would be strange to any Muggle, (or No-Maj as they’re called in America) however Newt’s whispering to it is akin to that of an incredibly patient parent, and he is expecting his stop in New York to be short and relatively simple.
However, we are soon made aware of the havoc even the smallest of creatures can wreak as the Niffler, a creature that looks like a cross between a mole and a duck-billed platypus and has a particular hankering for all things shiny, escapes into a bank. We are then introduced to our hero’s comedic sidekick, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). A factory worker with big dreams of opening a bakery, Jacob is dragged headfirst with the audience into an adventure in a magical world completely unknown to him, his disbelief and shock becoming one of the most amusing elements of the film. In a catastrophic turn of events, the pair’s almost identical suitcases get mixed up, leading to Newt almost being arrested by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) who has been watching the events unfold. A tough and level-headed character, she immediately takes Newt to MACUSA (the American version of the Ministry of Magic) for failing to obliviate Jacob, however her superiors refuse to listen to her as she has recently been demoted from her position as an Auror.
Tina eventually finds herself protecting Newt and Jacob, against her better judgement, after some of Newt’s creatures escape, bringing them back to hers and her sister Queenie’s apartment. Jacob and Queenie quickly form a bond with each other, and go on to create some of the most poignant and emotional moments in the film, especially considering that America has some “rather backwards laws about relations with non-magic people,” according to Newt. The following scenes in the sister’s’ apartment shows developing friendships between the four characters, and a continuing clash of personalities for Newt and Tina. What follows is a thrilling adventure to find the escapee creatures across New York, with many amusing moments, including Newt trying to lure a rhinoceros-like creature back into the case with an impressive mating dance in Central Park.
Colleen Atwood’s presentation of 1920s fashion is excellent. On a backdrop of a grey, wintery city and the muted browns and blacks of other New Yorkers’ clothing, Newt is a pop of colour in bright mustard yellow and peacock blue. Whether it was intentional to make the whole background appear as though it is in black as white or not, it is still a wonderful way of showcasing his eccentricity. In fact, the majority of the magical communities costumes are impressive. Percival Graves’ (Colin Farrell) distinctive silky robes give him an essence of flamboyance and mystery throughout the film, whilst Queenie’s dusky pink velvet coat accentuates her softness and femininity. Another interesting element is the black and white clothing of the New Salem Philanthropic Society. This would appear to mirror the Puritanical clothing worn in the period of the Salem Witch Trials in late 1600s Massachusetts, especially by characters Mary-Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) and Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) whose cold attitudes have a chilling effect throughout the film with their hatred and fear of witchcraft, presenting an ever-present threat to our magical characters, much more than in any previous Harry Potter films.
James Newton Howard’s music brings the magic of the film to life. He uses a mixture of ragtime and blues for Jacob’s theme, and a distinctly magic-themed jazz song by singer Emmi for a scene in the Blind Pig bar. It makes the era of the 1920s more alive and fun, especially as we’re introduced to the MACUSA headquarters concealed within the Woolworth Building – the music contrasts perfectly with Newt’s amazement at the hundreds of floors of Gothic Revival architecture typical of early 20th century public buildings. Howard also slips in John Williams’ original themes, a clever way of incorporating the previous Potter films without relying heavily on references to them. The opening titles is one particular moment that returns the audience to Rowling’s world of magic as we glide through the Warner Brothers logo with the very familiar Hedwig’s Theme playing. Whilst the fun and exciting moments are accompanied beautifully with loud and rich orchestral movements, especially that of the Occamy and the Demiguise’s chaotic capture, and any form of trouble the Niffler may cause, there are also poignant and quiet moments that Howard’s gentle and subtle music makes even more tender and emotional – Queenie and Tina’s flat feels even more homely and magical with Howard’s light and expressive soundtrack.
This film is a wonderful expression of JK Rowling’s seemingly boundless imagination, with her characters never ceasing to enthral. We laugh along with Jacob’s wonder as he experiences the wizarding world, share Newt’s adoration for his creatures and understand the fierce loyalty between Queenie and Tina. In what has become a fascinating and poignant franchise, which for many people is an important part of their childhood, these new characters are just as easy to relate to as our original Golden Trio, and will no doubt go on to inspire a new generation of Harry Potter fans. The familiar and comfortable world that Rowling has created certainly hasn’t disappeared in this new instalment – a must watch for any Harry Potter fan.