I can pinpoint several moments in my life where Harry Potter (or really, J.K. Rowling) has been responsible for some mild weeping, full-body goosebumps, and enthusiastic squeals — but watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wasn't one of them. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and thought it was a beautiful, engaging movie. But as a fan, there was just something missing. Granted, there are a few factors to consider: my expectations were sky-high for what will be a five-film spinoff series and unlike the original series, there wasn't a full-fledged novel to read ahead of the film's release.
So before I give it some time to percolate in my fan brain (and watch it a few more times), here are some of my favorite and least favorite things about Fantastic Beasts. Warning: minor spoilers ahead!
What I Loved
- The nods to the original Harry Potter story and films. We get a few breadcrumbs throughout Fantastic Beasts that reference the Harry Potter we know and love, such as a couple small snippets from the original theme song, mentions of Dumbledore and Hogwarts, Newt's Hufflepuff scarf, a book with a moving cover, the Deathly Hallows symbol, and a quick peek at a Grindylow (exactly like those in Goblet of Fire). These subtle moments had me feeling nostalgic, I just wish there had been more . . . like, a lot more.
- Learning new things about the history of characters from Harry Potter. Since this is a prequel, it's fascinating to finally learn more about characters and families from the original series, such as Gellert Grindelwald and the Lestrange family. We don't get a ton of information in this first film, but with five total on the horizon, I'm optimistic about what's to come.
- Seeing the wizarding world of Harry Potter in a new time and place. I enjoyed the fresh take on how wizards would dress, talk, and relate to muggles (aka "No-Maj" in American wizard slang) in a 1920s New York City setting. Considering the Salem witch trials, for instance, in relation to Harry Potter is fascinating and comes into play in the movie. Not to mention the '20s-era costumes and the design of the American version of The Ministry of Magic, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, or MACUSA for short.
- The creatures. Newt's fantastic beasts are, well, fantastic! They are stunning to behold, full of personality, and creatively constructed. The Niffler might even be my favorite part about the entire movie. They also provide a lot of the comic relief.
What I Didn't
- It is really dark and genuinely creepy. Yes, the final Harry Potter films were dark, but if this is supposed to spawn a new, young generation of fans, I think they should have started out with something a little tamer. You know, more pretty creatures and funny characters, less dead-eyed little girls dressed like Pilgrims singing haunting songs about witches. Seriously. I full-on jumped out of my seat at one point, and I'm a 31-year-old woman.
- Forced love interests. In the Harry Potter series, we don't get romantic relationships between main characters until several books in, and even then it's not really that important. Yeah OK, they are kids, but still. The heart of the series isn't about romance, and that's sort of what makes it great. Also, the relationships build up over years. The issue with Fantastic Beasts isn't that the romantic pairings are that central to the story, it's just that they don't really make sense. There's little to no chemistry between one pair and the other one just doesn't seem realistic. Plus, they happen over the course of days, not years.
- Not enough throwbacks to the original series. This film could have bridged the gap between the now-grown-up fans of the Harry Potter series and a new wave of devotees, and it just didn't. Instead of a nostalgic ode to the original, it was very clearly laying the groundwork for a new series with new characters and stories. Fans looking for secret tie-ins, Easter eggs, or answers to theories will probably be disappointed in this first film. We may get more in the coming movies, but this felt like a missed opportunity. I wanted tears and goosebumps, dammit!