Sound Off! Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’ve apparated to discuss Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which premiered in the U.S. on Friday, November 18th, 2016.

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Sound Off! is meant to be a group of reactions, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places. You may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching, but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t yet seen Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and you read this post, you WILL be spoiled in some form or fashion.

Now, join Nancy, Nicole,  and J.L. Gribble as they talk about Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them!


fantastic-beasts-where-find-them-movie-posterNancy: Hollywood seems to be carving out out two paths when it comes to movie prequels. On one hand, you have the dumpster fire route (the Star Wars Prequels). On the other, you have a genuinely good time at the movies that leaves you feeling just the tiniest bit disappointed when it fails to reach the heights of the originals (The Hobbit movies).

And for what it’s worth, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wisely eschews the first path for the second.

There’s a lot to enjoy about Fantastic Beasts. As someone who’s been a Harry Potter fan since I was twelve, I really enjoyed how the movie opened doors to other areas of the Harry Potter universe, telling the stories of new characters, in a new place (New York) and time (the 1920s). The characters presented here are quite likable, especially Newt Scamander himself, played by the talented Eddie Redmayne, who manages to be both cripplingly awkward and wonderfully charming in a way that the British can only really achieve. I quite enjoyed getting to meet both his menagerie of magical beasts, as well as the allies he meets while in America (which includes a Muggle!).

But that’s not the only thing going on in Fantastic Beasts. There’s a mysterious force attacking New York City, an anti-witch group protesting in the street, politicians in both the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds, the investigations of an American auror, the whispers of an evil wizard on the loose, the belief that magical creatures are nothing more than killers, and more personal journeys. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to juggle all of these aspects successfully, but Fantastic Beasts doesn’t quite manage it. As a result, the movie can feel a bit on the messy side, with some areas clearly undeveloped. There’s even a pretty big reveal at the end that doesn’t quite have the punch that it’s clearly going for, which is a shame. I also have some concerns that the movie isn’t the most friendly to new viewers, which is a strange choice for the first entry in a new series.

I came out of Fantastic Beasts all around happy, both with the film I had just seen and with the thought of getting a new Harry Potter movie every year or two. At the same time, it’s just not as good as any of the original Potter movies or books. But that’s the problem with making a follow up to a classic for the ages. People are going to get excited about the thought of new stories, but there’s no escaping that long shadow cast by the originals.

So if you’re a Harry Potter fan, I’d certainly recommend seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Just make sure you keep your expectations in check.


fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-comic-con-posterNicole: I was pretty hyped to go see the movie since everyone around me kept saying that I should.

I’m not so hyped now.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. To be fair, I didn’t know what to expect. Who was going to be the bad guy? Newt Scamander is a Magizoologist — who the heck is he supposed to do battle with? And the trailers clearly indicated battling was going to happen. At best I guessed something escaped from his suitcase, terribleness ensued, and he along with others would be forced to subdue it.

Which was true, sort of. But not quite. There are enough references that Harry Potter fans will immediately know who/what certain things are. Grindelwald is a dark wizard that Dumbledore defeated — something that was discussed in The Deathly Hallows. But for newcomers to the series, the name is lost on them. They know he’s bad, but they don’t know how bad. After all, this was the fellow who wielded the Elder Wand until his defeat.

But the focus is supposed to be on Newt and his magical beasts, right? His goal is to help release a thunderbird (that, oddly enough, looks like a gryphon rather than a giant eagle) back in Arizona, but first has to make his way through New York — I guess because he wanted to see the city? Did one have to go through New York in the 20s before going anywhere else? Anyway, as expected, things go wrong. Throw in a rogue MACUSA agent, rogue wizarding power, and some woman who is espousing the evil of witches, and…yeah.

While the story was interesting, I kind of prefer my idea. The antagonist isn’t truly evil, which always makes for a unique experience, and nothing ended the way I thought it would. And there are a lot of things I can’t say I’m a fan of. For example, Tina used to be an Auror — so why does she come off as so bumbling and incompetent? And why does she fold so quickly — and into tears, no less — under everyone a step above her? And I still don’t understand why they were going to execute her. Graves’s orders or no, isn’t that something he shouldn’t have jurisdiction over if he too is just an Auror? Newt also uses a Swooping Evil in several very important occasions — so you’d think they’d be in his book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but guess what? They’re not. Neither are thunderbirds, by the way. And what the heck was that singer in the bar supposed to be? A female goblin? And why was a giant in there? I started to feel like they were shoehorning in stuff just for the sake of it.

It’s just filled with a lot of things that don’t work for me (super convenient obliviate method there, Newt) that seem to counteract the things that do work. I’m kind of let down, really, because I’d hoped the story would focus on the beasts and Newt, rather than go off on a Grindelwald tangent that again, didn’t really make much sense.

Oh, and Hollywood? I really, really do not approve of your actor choice for Grindelwald at the end. I like the man, but no. Please stop thinking you’re smart and cheeky, because you aren’t, and I don’t appreciate it.


fantastic_beasts_and_where_to_find_them_ver4_xxlgJ.L. Gribble: I’ve seen a lot of fantasy properties billed as “Harry Potter for adults” in the past decade or so, but the description always seemed to ring false for me, even for the things that I loved (such as the television show The Magicians). However, halfway through watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I sat higher in my seat and thought, “This. This is what they always meant and never got quite right.”

I shouldn’t be surprised that it took J.K. Rowling herself to bring the rest of the Wizarding World to life. I’m pleased that I finally have something to point to when people dismiss her as “just a kid’s book writer.” While she’s not my favorite writer of all time, and I have significant issues with the way the Harry Potter series played out, even I have to admit that it takes an enormous amount of skill to age a book series along with the characters the way she did, and then take it a step further to bring adults into the fold — in a completely different mode of storytelling, no less.

I’ve already read reviews that bring characters like Newt and Tina to task, in terms of how much of the plot wouldn’t have occurred if they weren’t making terrible decisions (fix your damn suitcase, Newt!). But caught up in the moment of watching the film, none of that mattered to me. Since I didn’t start reading the Harry Potter novels until late into my teens, this was the first time I was coming to this world as a native rather than an immigrant. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them includes so many dark themes, such as child abuse, the rift between the magical and no-maj/muggle worlds, and the isolationism of the American magical society away from the threats of Europe, which parallels so much of what was going on politically in that era, but are things adult viewers would have a better context for. While adult doesn’t necessarily have to mean “dark,” this was a story that swept me up and never downplayed anything for the sake of age-appropriateness. This was the wizarding world created for me, and I loved every second of it.

12 Comments

  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier December 2, 2016 at 7:28 am

    Holy divisivenes Batman!

    I’ve come across so many different opinions when it comes to this movie. Right after seeing it (and determining that it was flawed, but pretty good) I read a review that tore it to pieces (including some of the things I genuinely enjoyed) and another one that praised it as the best Harry Potter movie ever. I guess this really is one of those “your mileage may vary” situations.

    Makes me wonder what they’ll do with the sequel.

    Reply
    • steelvictory December 2, 2016 at 8:03 am

      There’s so much I agree with in your and Nicole’s reviews, but at the same time that I was being critical of it, I still really enjoyed seeing a movie about the Wizarding World that was made for me, not 14-year-old me. So I think that made me forgive a lot of its flaws.

      Reply
      • Nicole Taft December 2, 2016 at 12:05 pm

        The funny thing is that I actually thought at one point mid-way through the movie, “I guess this is the adult version but…man, I miss the kids being the protagonists and stuff.”

        Reply
  • amjusticewrites December 2, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I loved the 2 couples in the movie and found their budding romances pretty engaging, but I completely agree with all the plot-related flaws cited in these comments. The subplots were woefully under-developed and confusing to anyone who isn’t a scholar of the Wizarding World. For instance, it’s been years since I read Deathly Hallows and the name Grindelwald didn’t ring any bells for me–my sister-in-law had to explain who he was–and I didn’t find the backstory was explained well enough in the film itself for me to really care about the big reveal. Secondly, the involvement of the muggle politicians was superficial and contrived, without any REAL tension between the magical and nonmagical worlds that would explain the actions and reactions of the nonmagical characters. The climactic battle was actually pretty anticlimactic, and plausibility issues abounded over how things were put to right at the very end. (How did the rain affect people inside the buildings? If there was some sort of airborne transmission thing happening, why did the baker have to step outside into the rain to be affected?)

    Reply
    • Nancy O'Toole Meservier December 4, 2016 at 8:51 am

      It’s funny you mentioned the rain thing, as that bothered me too. Typically when you have a crisis, there are bound to be people that seek shelter, after all. But the weird thing is, I probably would have been able to accept it had the movie otherwise sold me up until that point. But there were so many little things along the way, that by the end, I just was’t completely on board.

      I feel like the muggle politician stuff was just set up for future movies. But on it’s own it was pretty weak, You could have removed it all from the movie and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

      Reply
    • Nicole Taft December 4, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Yeah, I didn’t want my reaction to get too long so I left the rain bit out, among other things. But I agree. They showed people inside showering and brushing their teeth being affected and all I could think was, “….That’s how how water use works even in the 20s.” And it was too convenient for me. Like Newt just happened to have that vial and combined with the thunderbird, somehow made a magical obliviate potion. They would have been better off using the MIB version with a flasher inside the Statue of Liberty.

      I also agree about the “tension” between the magical community and non-magical. It’s 1920s – pretty sure most people who saw that lady yelling about witches would think she was a crazy person, and in fact it kind of looked like a lot of them did.

      You know what else I thought was funny? It didn’t actually bother me, but I just thought it was interesting – why Newt came to America on a ship and went through customs. Wouldn’t he use magical means and go through magical customs? You know, portkey to America and all that? Unless he did that to smuggle in his briefcase safely – in which case, any wizard ever can just do that and never get caught smuggling their stuff or others into the country.

      Reply
      • Shara White December 4, 2016 at 7:00 pm

        My only explanation (not for people being indoors, though) was that I thought the potion Newt gave the thunderbird was the one he was mixing when we saw him go into his suitcase for the first time?

        Reply
        • Nicole Taft December 6, 2016 at 11:30 am

          It was – but it was still super convenient. He never specified what the heck it was for at the time, and now suddenly he can use it with a thunderbird to make a Super Awesome Obliviate All The Things Potion? Meh.

          Reply
    • amjusticewrites December 4, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      One other little thing that bothered me. It’s the middle of winter with snow on the ground, and cold enough that children are ice skating in Central Park, but people are walking around wearing only light jackets, and no hats or mittens. Maybe the magical people can keep themselves magically warm, but everyone else should at least be shivering. No one seemed to be COLD.

      Reply
      • Shara White December 4, 2016 at 6:58 pm

        Good catch! That’s not one I caught.

        Reply
  • Shara White December 4, 2016 at 8:02 am

    I found this to be a lot of fun. Certainly, a movie with some flaws, but I was surprised how, despite the childish-sounding title, it was very much an adult film, which was only really made apparent by the end. The love stories were completely sweet and adorable. I didn’t mind the, for lack of a better word, “stunt-casting” of Grindelwald because as soon as it was revealed, I remembered I’d heard he was in the movie. I think one of the things I wished for was a little more time spent with American Magical Politics: why were all these specific rules in place? I’ve read the Potter books and seen the movies, but I didn’t think Muggles were all completely aware of the magical world co-existing with them, so I was a little puzzled, albeit very engaged.

    Reply

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