Newt Scamander arrives in New York in 1926 with a suitcase full of his beloved magical creatures (the breeding of which is prohibited in America). One of those is a little one recognizable to all Harry Potter fans– a charming Niffler with a passion for all things shiny who causes a great deal of trouble to his owner… Then we meet a whole cast of American characters: the hapless No-Maj (or Muggle in British English) Mr Kowalski, a former Auror, Tina Goldstien and her gorgeous mind-reading sister, Queenie.
Newt Scamander is a highly suitable character for a hero of the prequels of the Harry Potter saga. He is passionate about the magical creatures to the point of ignoring the danger they can cause : in a way he reminds me of a much-smaller Hagrid. But Newt also has his secrets, ones he will not willingly reveal, even to his closest friends. Eddie Redmayne does an excellent job of portraying the eccentric and shy magician, although I had to admit I questioned his slight limp in the beginning (was it supposed to indicate a magical injury? Or was it just a remnant of his having played Stephen Hawking?).
It is not my wish here to reveal the plot, but it does have elements that, if not for the subtleness, would not have gone amiss in a horror movie. If I were a twelve year old I probably would have been traumatized- but then I was always a bit of a scaredy cat. The best moments for me are undoubtedly the elements of magical zoology, though I suppose they would not have been enough to hold a plot on their own. But they were enchanting. The dynamics between the characters were interesting enough to merit further exploration, which I hope will be possible in the sequels. There is a certain whimsical quality to the film’s ending, a gentle wistfulness, a refusal to give us what we think we wish for.
I genuinely enjoyed this film, but I have one question to J.K. Rowling? Why not a novel?
Why do we give fuel to those who keep telling us the novel is dead, because they can’t force themselves to prolonged imaginary effort of any sort? Wouldn’t it have been nice to kids who imagined the fantastic beasts before they saw them portrayed on screen? I re-read the Fantastic Beasts textbook released for Comic Relief before seeing the film, but there was truly plenty to be added ( and, in fairness a new edition of that textbook is to be brought out in March 2017).
Screenplays are all very well, J.K. Rowling, but I feel there was plenty of space for a novel here, and in fact I felt that there were regions of the plot that were underdeveloped in a way that you would not have gone gotten away with in a novel. It is all very well developing Pottermore as your online fanbase, but there is still an old-fashioned group of fans, those who love turning physical pages instead of scrolling on their touch screen. They need to be catered to.