The other day I went to fill myself with pizza and watch Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them at the local cinema. The pizza was a rich and tasty experience, full of flavour and salty joy. But the film was a true delight – an adventure into the dark roaring twenties, sparkling with magical creatures, well-dressed protagonists and tremendous special effects. Being a definitive ‘Harry Potter child’, I once knew every word to Stephen Fry’s story tapes, and while I’m not quite so attached as I was then, I love seeing today’s kids buying stickers and reading about quaffles. I’m delighted that the new Fantastic Beasts film will allow us all to delve into a different corner of what is clearly a growing magical universe. But while the original Harry Potter stories provided a magnificent framework in which to teach children about love, war and morality, Fantastic Beasts seems to have opened up a whole new can of delicious worms that I think can only be a positive influence on the minds of young people.
Once I’d accepted Ezra Miller was not Kevin Khatchadourian, and once I was again immersed in the fantasy of the wizarding world, I started seeing elements of the storyline that were refreshing in a film primarily targeted at children. I find this genre frequently patronising and simplistic, frightened to reveal too much of the adult world in which children will inevitably have to find their place. And for little girls, a female protagonist is often ridiculously beautiful or passive; even modern heroines like Elsa and Anna have bizarrely distorted faces, and Disney’s live action remake of Cinderella was picture perfect with the age old damsel-in-distress routine. That’s not to say that fairytale princesses don’t have a place in children’s fiction, but they certainly don’t have one in the wizarding world, because when push comes to shove, Voldemort doesn’t give a damn if you have nice eyes. Fantastic Beast‘s female protagonist Tina Goldstein is an auror with practical boots and choppy hair, intent on fighting dark forces with intelligence alone. She is everything I would want my children to admire: brave, clever, caring and flawed, just as real heroines should be.
Beyond this, there were undercurrents through the film of modern issues that wreak havoc on the minds of adults, let alone those of children. Newt Scamander remarks that the American wizarding community have distorted ideas on living in nomaj (muggle) New York, noting how terrible it is that Americans are forbidden from marrying non-magic people. You’d have to be fairly blind not to see parallels with racial prejudice in the western world, both historically and in the present. For Newt to highlight this flawed way of living is a brilliant way to expose the utter foolishness of racism, or simply fearing someone different to you. After all, children aren’t born hating others.
Ezra Miller’s character Credence epitomises a darkness in the film that allows a young audience to understand the importance of its message. Suppressing his wizarding powers in a cruel and superstitious household, his self-suffocation transforms him into an Obscurial, a parasitic force that will inevitably burst out in destructive fury. In many ways this is similar to Elsa in Frozen who, rather than harness and control her powers, allows her fear to take over. It’s a simple allegory aimed at all young people who are afraid of being who they are. You should always be yourself or you may never be happy. Or someone may die!
Ultimately, the message that resonates most deeply in this story is that of ecological conscience. Many of the enchanting animals living within Newt’s suitcase sanctuary have been rescued from trafficking or misuse, and we soon discover that the American wizarding authority MACUSA have even banned the breeding of any magical creatures as they are deemed too dangerous. The titular fantastic beasts are constantly feared and persecuted, simply because they are not understood or needed for human use. How often do we hear the same rhetoric in our muggle world? Animals are either pests to be controlled or put on earth to create profit for humans, whether in agriculture, the fur trade, poaching, badger culling or horse racing. Many children now are not encouraged to watch Planet Earth or play outside, and they may grow up fearing the wild rather than endeavouring to protect it.
I haven’t got an A Level in film so I have nothing to contribute to this review on the theme of photography or plot stamina. But as a Harry Potter child who longed for the Hogwarts acceptance letter that never came, this film filled me with glittering joy. JK Rowling has a history of making life brighter for so many kids, from founding a children’s charity to writing stories that have mesmerised millions of people across the globe. For me, Fantastic Beasts is a triumph in a world of darkness, a world that is currently in desperate need of a little light.