It’s a well-known fact that Brooke has made pilgrimages to Wizarding World and the Harry Potter Studio Tour and wept aggressively at both of them. Still, Annemarie pushed the envelope and avoided seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them until the impending release of the second part of the story forced Brooke’s hand. So, AM, tell us all about Newt Scamander and magic in America and what you think of the thing now that you’ve seen it.
A: How could I ever heap criticism on the HP world in front of Brooke? And honestly, I don’t really need to. This is a delightful look at the pre-HP HP world, and I did love it as much as I knew I would. You see, I’m not quite a full-time HP obsessive, but I’m definitely an enthusiast. It’s a marvelously realized world and I’m still quite taken by it.
Now to the particulars. I want to give a short recap here but mostly leave the plot dealings to Brooke, because there’s a lot going on here. Newt has taken his suitcase / laboratory on the road (I guess I’m not super clear why?) and he’s entering New York City with a lot of fantastic beasts. I want to pause and say one magic thing I definitely need is the magic suitcase with rooms inside it. You’d never need a hotel room! Or to ever go back home since you carry your home with you! Newt encounters immediate difficulty keeping a low profile, sending several beasts out into the world and involving impressionable Muggles along the way. Also: Johnny Depp with a tragic bleached ‘do. Help me, Brooke, tell me the whys of this thing!
Let’s cover that before we get to the real story: the beasts themselves. I have my favorites, to be sure, but I want to get Brooke’s take on the plot and how it ties into the larger HP world first.
B: Oh, AM, the space I could spend on the why is vast, but I’ll go against our mantra and try to keep it brief here. The first thing you need to know is this. Everything we’re seeing is happening about 70 years before a glasses-wearing kid with a lightning scar comes onto the scene. Given that it’s the Roaring Twenties, I should hope that would be obvious, but what with the robes and candles it can be tough to tell (if you’re a muggle). You should also know that Newt Scamander is a magizoologist and we meet him as he’s finishing the fieldwork and research for his book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a guide that Harry, Ron and Hermione will get to know quite well during Care of Magical Creatures. Prior to these films, his authorship of the book was about all we knew of Newt. But what this film sets the stage for is his larger involvement of one of the darkest periods in wizarding history, Grindelwald’s reign of terror (he’s basically Wizard Hitler). Grindelwald is really just a texture in this picture, a backdrop against which Newt and his new friends Tina, Queenie, and Jacob introduce us to the Wizarding World of the era, and in America, but you better believe there’s so much more implied than sits on the surface.
If you’re an HP devotee, you already know what I mean, and if you’re not … reread Deathly Hallows and pay close attention to the sections about Dumbledore’s past.
Have I covered your questions, AM? And just for the record, I do have a copy of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them textbook, and yes, I have read it more than a few times, and I did know what most of these beasts were before Newt told us. I’m guessing most of them were new to you, though, so let’s hear your thoughts.
A: I did know the era, thankfully, and that this was a prequel of sorts to the “main” HP books. And I’m also glad to know that I wasn’t supposed to learn that much in this film about Grindelwald, because he’s sort of not there as a villain. Now that I’m caught up on the basics, let’s indeed talk creatures!
First, and most importantly, the Niffler. They’re like tiny platypuses that steal shiny things, a giant convenient pouch for hiding all of the shiny things, and I love all of them. Also important and almost as cute: the Bowtruckle, a Groot-like twig guy with attachment issues. Then there’s the Erumpent, a massive rhino with extra magic powers of explosion. Of all the creatures that could have escaped Newt’s lab, are these the worst? Brooke, if you could fill your magic suitcase’s lab with endless magical creatures, which ones would you take? What creatures did you want to see (as an HP expert) that we don’t get to see here?
Then, let’s discuss the human characters (a bit less delightful than the creatures, but almost as delightful). I adored the Queenie / Jacob romance as I’m sure most people did. I am glad we watched Fanboys before I saw this, because I find the combination of Dan Fogler plus newcomer Alison Sudol to be the most adorable. Now, Brooke, tell me why I’m wrong and Newt is the best human character here.
B: I too love the Niffler and Pickett the Bowtruckle and have such love for that thirsty Erumpant. I would keep all of them in my magic suitcase. I would also definitely have a few Pygmy Puffs for cuteness, a Kappa in case I need someone to heat up my water for me, Cornish Pixies for mischief and a Phoenix to bail me out of tight corners. Minus the Kappa, we’ve seen most of those guys on screen before, but rarely spent time with most of them. Teaser: There are some *highly* interesting beasts introduced in the sequel.
But now for the humans. It is true that I find Newt irresistibly swoon-y. He has such a big heart, a wonderful coat and dashing hair. How could I not be there for this guy as a leading man? He’s everything I want. However, I would actually say that Queenie (Alison Sudol) is my absolute favorite. She’s a treat from start to finish and wonderfully curious and compassionate. I’m so there for her relationship with Jacob that it hurts. Though it must be I ship Tina and Newt pretty hard too.
AM, I’m going to need you to weigh in on your favorite moments and give us some dramatic predictions for our fantastic four.
A: I echo your sentiments about shipping our lead four characters and their love for one another. They’re all so wrong yet so right for each other, that you know it’s not going to be an easy path. Newt is an outcast, and so is Tina, which makes it difficult to meet up and grab a cup of coffee, because, you know, angst. Jacob’s not even magic, and he and Queenie are expressly forbidden from dating or even talking.
That’s one thing I liked about this world, vs the world of Hogwarts we’ve spent so long exploring. The adult relationships here are the focus, and so we get a more mature outlook. This is what can happen out in the world post-school. And since so far, Grindelwald is not nearly as big of a threat as He Who Must Not Be named, it’s fun to explore these more complicated relationships — until presumably, the danger level gets higher.
It doesn’t get better than the final “goodbye” scene as the New York gets rained down with forgetfulness. It’s magical, emotional, and fully appropriate for the journey so far. We know we’ll see our fantastic four together, but it will come at a price, given all they’re risking.
Since in real time I’ve actually seen the second Fantastic Beasts, I’ll tell you what I predicted before I saw it, because to do more would be to cheat:
- Tina & Newt, and Queenie & Jacob will reunite, but at least one of them (Jacob) has had his memory wiped (maybe?), so there’ll be a lot of catching up to do. And they probably won’t reunite in New York.
- I hope we learn more about both Grindelwald and the so-far mysterious Leta Lestrange. I know the Lestranges have a long history (I know Brooke can say how long) with the Dark Arts, so what’s really the deal with Leta? Is she evil?
- MOAR BEASTS
- Can we have an offshoot Cooking Channel series with Jacob? (Clearly not a prediction, but wouldn’t that be awesome?)
Brooke, what final musings and questions do you have for me on this fine first film in this book-less series?
B: You, my dear friend, have keyed on all the things I’ve often had to explain to others. Fantastic Beasts is thrilling because it gives us so many new sides of the Wizarding World we thought we knew so well. We’re glimpsing mature relationships, political strife, and the too-often ignored fact that some things don’t get easier when you grow up. I love that there’s so much subversion in these characters — Newt is the thoughtful, sensitive one and he’s a better man for it, how incredible that we’re situating this story around such a non-traditional hero, around a man who demonstrates another kind of masculinity. I’m impossibly charmed by all of this, and so much more. The great lament, however, is that we’re bookless, so I can’t pour over the reams and reams of detail we know J.K. has tucked away, and so, we wait. But at least we can discuss The Crimes of Grindelwald now you’re caught up.
A: Is this breaking the rules of RV to move onto the sequel? Our series, our rules! I have some thoughts, and I’m sure Brooke has more to wrap us up.
- Hate what’s happening with Queenie and I think we can all agree Johnny Depp is the worst (person and character).
- Loved the jump to Paris as our main location, but I did miss New York. I’m sure we’re set to see even more locations in the next film.
- Don’t think at all that Credence is really a Dumbledore, but I don’t know if I’m correct. Just a hunch.
- MOAR BEASTS
- Also, MOAR Nagini! What a cool surprise, and I’m sure that J.K. had that one up her sleeve for years. Which begs the most important question: what else do we think we have in store for us?
Anything else to review, Brooke? I know you are def in for Fantastic Beasts as it evolves, despite some protests from critics and fans. Let’s hear your argument for hearing J.K. out.
B: Agreed on all of your points. And here’s the thing — J.K. is a story builder. I hate how many questions I have right now, but I also know that that brain of hers has a way of making things that seem inconsequential now count for a whole awful lot later on. I mean, there’s a throwaway line on a chocolate frog card in the early chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone that sets the stage for this whole story. So I’m here for wherever we’re headed — and because like Hermione, I know my wizard history, I know we’re headed toward something pretty spectacular, even if I can’t fathom how we’re getting there.