This weekend, I finally got to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’ve been a longtime Harry Potter fan so I was stoked to see this movie.
And I didn’t like the first half. By the end of it, the movie had won me over, but I’m not here to talk about what I liked about it. I’m here, in a spoiler-free way, to discuss the storytelling problems in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
I spent most of the first half of the movie with my author hat on, thinking, why am I not enjoying this movie?
Ultimately, I came up with three things. Two minor problems, and one major one. Let’s talk about the minor problems first:
- The setting change from England to New York is jarring. There’s something romantic about Hogwarts and Diagon Alley that’s lost in 1920s New York. It’s a harder sell to convince me to suspend my disbelief about people blasting wands in city streets with women in flapper dresses against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. England is just more magical-sounding, which is why all the actors in Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones speak with English accents.
- The lack of whimsy. This is a dark movie, for the most part. The original Potter series had a winning combination of two main ingredients: a likable protagonist and an enjoyable world. The world’s whimsy is almost worth the trip. Bertie’s every flavor beans is a great example. It’s fun and provides nice color for the world. In Fantastic Beasts, there’s giggle water, but that’s about it. We need more of the whimsy to make it feel like a Potter universe story.
But, like I said, these are minor issues.
The main reason I had trouble feeling connected to this movie until the second half was:
- The characterization. Harry Potter is a great character because Rowling devotes so much time in the books to making us feel for him. Harry’s had a rough first few years of his life, so you can’t help but want the poor kid to succeed. Now, obviously, Fantastic Beasts is a movie, so we can’t spend oodles of time establishing why we should care about newt Scamander. But, it’s not until we really see how much he cares about his magical creatures that he becomes a likable character (and I won’t say more, lest I spoil things).
I think this could have been fixed with one small adjustment to the story:
At the beginning of the movie, Newt is on a boat to America. If there had been one short scene on that boat ride of him demonstrating how much he cares about the beasts, I would have liked him right away. I would have related to him.
But again, by the end, this movie had won me over and I liked it. I’m not a hater.
What do you think? Agree with my assessment or not? Comment down below, if you’re so inclined.