Written by: Julia Siegel
Have you missed seeing the Wizarding World on the big screen? Did you read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the past few months and wish that there would be more movies to come? Whether you are in Harry Potter withdrawal or not, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is unfolding a new chapter of the Wizarding World that has not been disclosed before. J.K. Rowling brings a new adventure to life in ways that are pure magic. After going to a screening of the new film and having the opportunity to learn more about the world Fantastic Beasts takes place in at the roundtable discussions, there is so much to talk about regarding the new five-part series that will play out over the next decade. However, it’s very easy to spoil too. In light of not giving away the major elements of the film, here is the non-spoiler version of everything that you need to know going into Fantastic Beasts.
One of the best elements of Fantastic Beasts is that everything, besides the name of the main character, is brand new material that hasn’t been played out in the pages of one of Rowling’s best-selling novels. Up until now, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has only been a name that has come up casually in Harry Potter’s timeline. The new series will explore Newt’s adventures in the 1920’s as he travels the world to save magical creatures and write his famed textbook that will one day be a staple read for Hogwarts students.
This film brings Newt to New York City in 1926 during a time that is treacherous for the secrecy of witches and wizards. Newt doesn’t know that he is arriving in a city that is in turmoil from an unseen force that is tearing through the city and threatening to reveal magic to the No-Maj (American for Muggle) world. Tensions are high as the two worlds collide in unexpected ways. Things are only get worse when some of Newt’s magical creatures escape from his case, which makes the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA, aka the American Ministry of Magic) pin the blame of the city’s woes on Newt. The race is on to save the creatures and reveal the truth behind the destruction in a twisty and surprising adventure that will leave you wondering what’s going to happen next.
Even though Fantastic Beasts takes place in a completely different time, different part of the world, and with new characters, it still has the same core values as the Harry Potter stories. In fact, Fantastic Beasts initially presents very similarly to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When talking about the characters, Dan Fogler, who plays No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, said, “In their own way, they are all trying to find themselves, and that’s what [Rowling] does so well.” The new foursome of Newt, Jacob, Tina (Katherine Waterston), and Queenie (Alison Sudol) have the same internal and external problems as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which makes Fantastic Beasts feel familiar.
The big difference between the two groups is how the foursome comes together. They don’t automatically bond or even like each other, as Waterston described, “It’s through getting to know [Newt] better that [Tina] comes to understand what these creatures really mean and what they can be. And, through seeing his relationship with the creatures, she comes to see that there’s so much more to him than just the prickly and standoffish and outsider that she meets at the beginning of the film.” One of the common denominators is the beasts, who constantly steal the show and Jacob’s amazement. They also provide the comic relief of the otherwise dark and serious tone of the film.
There were many constant topics that came up during the roundtable discussions, but the most important one was the idea of the cast and crew being a family. Director David Yates feels very strongly about making sure his team is a family, “We believe in a philosophy of making everyone feel included. Everybody is contributing to our story….It’s about respect and valuing everyone who contributes… You take fear out of the process because fear, in my experience, makes people retract.” Producer David Heyman described the feeling as, “The environment that David [Yates] creates around the film is one where people feel safe, and you talk about trust. And, I think Jo felt incredibly safe with him…David provides that for the actors, for the crew, for Jo.”
The cast also had high remarks for Yates and Heyman’s methods. Sudol said that, “David Yates is a really amazing person, as is David Heyman, as is J.K. Rowling. They’re really very, very, very wonderful human beings, so they attract that, and they would gather people that are also good people.” Fogler also felt that Yates and Heyman’s decisions had a positive impact on the film, “They did so well in hand picking us, finding us, and finding the kinds of people that you would just like to chill with and just get the job done with. And, that’s what David Yates surrounds himself with.” The most heartwarming reply about the director and producer was from Ezra Miller, who plays Credence Barebone, “It’s an incredible feeling to be brought into a family. I think that’s a really sweet thing, and it’s a really good way to describe their methods of running a production.”
Not only did family play a big role in making Fantastic Beasts run smoothly, but similar character inspirations helped too. Both Fogler and Miller cited that they used actor Buster Keaton as a framework for their respective characters even though the script describes Newt as “Buster Keaton-esque.” Miller described Keaton’s influence as, “For me, there was something about the way that sadness came through the stillness in Buster Keaton that seemed appropriate for Credence.” Miller described playing the abused foster boy as, “My approach to Credence was someone who never got the love that they needed and who was also subject to this sort of violent indoctrination that made him believe that he was bad.”
Fogler used three sources of inspiration for Jacob: Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and his grandfather. “For Jacob, I felt like I was stepping into the shoes of my great-grandfather on an ancestral level because I’m from New York, and my great-grandfather, Isaac, was a baker on the Lower Side famous for Fogler’s pumpernickel and went to the war. I felt like it was in my blood,” Fogler said. Sudol plays almost the opposite of Miller’s Credence. Queenie is extremely bubbly, full of life, and is very playful. Sudol explained that her qualities were inspired by children and actress Clara Bow, who she says was a “real girl who was pretty magical.”
Another interesting topic that came up at the roundtables was how Fantastic Beasts acts as a lens to examine the USA in the 1920’s. Both the real 1920’s and the 1926 portrayed in the film weren’t the most stable of places. Miller said, “I think it’s fascinating that she chose this time to explore through the lens of the Wizarding World.” Rowling is able to use some of the aspects of her fantasy world to directly mirror the exact problems the USA had at the time, including racism and segregation.
Jacob, a No-Maj, and Queenie, a witch, are used as a framework to view racism and segregation. Fogler said, “In America at the time, it’s forbidden for magic to get out, mostly stemming from the Salem Witch Trials and how that got out of hand.” Sudol replied with, “We’re not supposed to interact at all. We’re not supposed to know each other. We’re not supposed to talk…It’s interesting because there’s such a strong divide, there’s such fear from both sides, that fear is amplified because it’s a line you’re not supposed to cross, so you can never see that there’s similarities between the two sides because…it’s forbidden. There’s this very beautiful metaphor between these two of they are coming from very different worlds and yet, they are kindred spirits and kind of immediately drawn to each other…it shines a light on how awful it is to segregate any people because we are all just human beings.”
The elephant, or Erumpent, in the room is where will the series take us next? I won’t say anything about the outcome of Fantastic Beasts or how the plot develops, but there are a few things worth mentioning about the longevity of the series. Yates offered that, “The next one is very different to the first one. Tonally, it feels like a dream – a very weirdly beautiful, erotic dream in Europe, in Paris. So yeah, building Paris basically.” Rowling will be writing the other four films, has them all planned out, and has the second script completed. Yates also revealed that the second film will briefly bring us back to the U.K. Other than that, the main villain of the series, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), will be have a role, as will a younger Dumbledore.
No other details have been revealed yet, and it’s very likely that it will stay under wraps for as long as possible. It’s excited that the films will be uncharted territory because there will be no pre-conceived notions going in. The cast has plenty of hopes for what will happen. Waterston and Redmayne would like to see popular house elf Dobby make an appearance at some point. Fogler made a bold statement about Jacob when he said, “I have this weird feeling, it may be just total nonsense, but I feel like he’s connected to Hagrid somehow.” It’s hard to say whether this prophesy will come true, but it will be hard for Jacob to continue in the franchise if he truly is a No-Maj.
Redmayne didn’t have any insight to offer, but did say that Rowling “is doing this because she has a story that she wants to tell, and the way into it is through Newt and the case, but it’s a much bigger story about good versus evil.” We have a probable two year wait for any of the million and one questions that arise from Fantastic Beasts to be answered. For now, we have a very good reintroduction to the Wizarding World to enjoy.