Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them was one of two Hogwarts textbooks converted into full Harry Potter spin-off books by JK Rowling in 2001, in aid of Comic Relief. Following the recent publication of the creature-heavy fourth installment The Goblet Of Fire, Fantastic Beasts is the fictional author Newt Scamander’s lexicon of magical creatures, unhelpfully annotated in the margins by the teenage Harry and Ron.
Warner Bros. Pictures holds the film rights to the Harry Potter books, but not the characters, which means they can’t make films based on stories that Rowling didn’t write. So, it must have felt like Christmas when Rowling pitched a new series of films based on Newt’s globe-trotting pursuits while writing Fantastic Beasts, bringing their most lucrative property back to cinemas for the first time since 2011’s Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2.
The first film arrives in cinemas next November and it stars Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne as the British Magizoologist who gets into a scrape with a lost creature during a flying visit to New York. Here’s the teaser…
No beasts to speak of, seeing as how the film is still relatively early on in its production, but here’s a look at what we do learn and what to expect from the finished film.
New York, 1926
Even with all of the encyclopaedic expansions to the wizarding world that Rowling has penned for the online reading experience Pottermore and detailed Chocolate Frog card biographies, we’ve hardly ever heard about where America figures into the wizarding world. Fantastic Beasts will change all that, taking place in the Big Apple in the roaring ’20s.
As far as the brief glimpses we get in this trailer are concerned, the setting looks great. Even with long-time Potter crewmembers like director David Yates and production designer Stuart Craig returning to duty for the spin-off, it looks markedly different from any of the previous films of Rowling’s work. Marrying the look of the wizarding world with the kind of period setting you expect from The Great Gatsby should make the film visually unique amongst next year’s tentpole films.
The main part of the teaser finds a new character, Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, (Katherine Waterston) speaking before the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) addressing a character played by Carmen Ejogo, (Selma) who is apparently the speaker of the house in this magical equivalent to Capitol Hill.
As detailed in Entertainment Weekly‘s November cover feature on the film, MACUSA is surreptitiously based inside New York’s Woolwich Building. Here we see them in a chamber that looks reminiscent of the Wizengamot chamber at the Ministry of Magic, as seen in The Order Of The Phoenix and The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Access to the Ministry of Magic in London came through telephone box elevators and, less conveniently, flushing yourself down certain public loos.
It’s interesting that the wizarding political capital is seemingly removed from the non-magical capital of Washington DC- it’s certainly one way of staying out of the way of the other Congress.
The same EW feature revealed that the Salem witch trials are considered to be a major historical tragedy in US wizarding history, which should inform a major difference in social life, especially for American witches. That would make it all the more important for them to stay out of sight.
As specified in an introductory chapter of the book, Scamander outlines how the UK’s International Statute of Secrecy introduced a clause in which magical creatures must be magically from the eyes of Muggles, making them invisible so as to avoid the exposure of the wizarding world. If the same holds on the other side of the pond, it would be pretty dangerous if something invisible escaped into the midst of ordinary citizens in New York, wouldn’t it?
Whatever the case may be
As Tina reports, a man arrived in New York with a case full of magical creatures. The man is Newt Scamander and given the size of his case, we think it’s fair to assume that TARDIS rules apply to the interior dimensions. Given Tina’s tremulous tone, especially when Newt sheepishly admits that the case was open “just a smidge,” the creatures that have escaped could make more than a little trouble.
As per EW, we’re going to see a number of beasts who have appeared in previous Potter films, including a return for Goblet Of Fire‘s Merpeople, as well as some who appeared in either the books or the textbook spin-off and have yet to appear on screen, including treasure-hunting Nifflers and the Irish phoenix known as an Augurey.
We’ve also heard that the escapees from Newt’s suitcase zoo are Ashwinders, which are serpent-like by-products of a magical fire that is left unchecked for too long. They breed like rabbits (big snakey ones) unless their nest is found and destroyed, so New York could be looking at the household infestations described in the textbook, but on a city-wide scale.
The trailer also holds a very brief glimpse of another new character, Graves, played by Colin Farrell. He’s seen here in a formerly four-walled apartment that has seemingly been blown open by some manner of off-screen chaos. Judging by his uniform, we’d guess that Graves is an American counterpart to an Auror, which is a law enforcer for the Ministry of Magic and Harry’s post-Hogwarts profession.
When Farrell was cast, the press release described Graves only as “a wizard that Newt Scamander meets in New York.” We could see him as a policeman-like figure who follows in the wake of destruction caused by Newt’s escaped pet. Other new characters who may be on their trail are Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) and her son Credence, (Ezra Miller) who head up an extremist anti-magic group called the Second Salemers.
At the very end of the trailer, as Mr. Scamander raises his wand for the obligatory magical action shot, we catch a very brief first glimpse of Jacob, (Dan Fogler) who is the franchise’s first Muggle protagonist. Alongside Newt, Tina, and her sister Queenie, (Alison Sudol) Jacob holds up the non-magical end of the tale.
To the consternation of fans, it has been revealed that the American term for a Muggle is a ‘No-Maj’, much like the difference between pavement and sidewalk, for instance. It certainly sounds less affectionate than the European nomenclature, but given the in-universe historical context of the Salem trials, isn’t it possible that this word isn’t meant to be especially humanizing?
Racial differences were certainly a major theme in the Harry Potter stories, with Voldemort and his followers systematically hunting down “Mudbloods” (wizards and witches born to Muggle parents) as they tried to take over the world. There could be an even more charged social context to this one and with Rowling penning her first screenplay, there’s sure to be more to this film than just an action-adventure chase story.
We’re sure they’ll have rendered some CGI creatures by the time we see another trailer for the movie, but for now, it’s enough to whet Potterheads’ appetites for a return to the wizarding world. The short trailer’s intertitles put a lot of emphasis on Rowling bringing back her creations, but from everything we’ve learned so far, there’s plenty of reason to get excited about this creature-centric spin-off.
Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them is released in cinemas nationwide on November 18th 2016.