“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” released November 18, transports the viewer to 1920’s New York City to follow the narrative of Newt Scamander (portrayed by Eddie Redmayne) as he grapples with the differences between wizardry in America and the United Kingdom.
The initial scenes create a parallel crisis of identity; this film is vastly different from the original Harry Potter series. The vibrancy of New York City is a shocking change from the simplicity of Hogwarts, and Newt Scamander’s timid nature could not be further from Harry Potter’s noble and outspoken manner.
The characters of the film, however, are comfortingly familiar. The triumph of three misfits over a sinister force is a common archetype for a reason: readers can easily step into the shoes of the protagonists. The most potent aspect of J.K. Rowling’s characters is their relatability.
Harry Potter, for all his strengths, is a teenage boy plagued with insecurities and constant pressure to fulfill a prophecy over which he has no control. Newt Scamander, similarly, takes on the responsibility of protecting magical creatures all over the world. Viewers can relate to this sense of responsibility, self-imposed or otherwise, and understand that everyone feels overwhelmed at times, even the Boy who Lived.
Ronald Weasley’s equivalent in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is Jacob Kowalski, an awkward but caring man who dreams of opening his own bakery; these characters are not merely sidekicks, but individuals with separate interests and plot lines. Weasley and Kowalski refute the cliché that “nice guys finish last” by proving the value of commitment and sincerity to any endeavor.
Hermione Granger, paralleled by Tina Goldstein in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” is a role model for girls and women everywhere, a testament to her intelligence, bravery, and grit. However, there is a darker side to her role in the story, which Tina also experiences. Rather than being celebrated for her clearly positive traits, Hermione suffers ridicule, contempt, and alienation from her peers. Tina loses her job in the Ministry of Magic when she pursues an aim too aggressively for a woman and endures criticism and condescension from her former colleagues for a choice she made out of dedication to the protection of the wizarding world.
This double standard, so effectively illustrated by Tina’s character, joins myriad other social issues portrayed in this film; the legal segregation of wizards and non-magic people is reminiscent of racial divisiveness in our country today, while the struggle of a teenage boy to reconcile his religious upbringing with his wizarding aspirations mirrors the process of coming to terms with one’s sexuality and gender identity. These themes are far more complex than the traditional good versus evil construction of many narratives and create deep thought and reflection.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” while a sentimental return to the world Harry Potter fans know and love, also contains a new and vital message of self-confidence and social awareness, communicated through unconventional characters and thematic subtleties. In a time of national uncertainty, stories such as this remind us of the ideas we value most: friendship, perseverance, and Butterbeer.