Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Pastiche of Stereotypes

Full disclosure: I am not a Harry Potter fan, so you will have to read other reviews to get the inside jokes or the fanboi drool.

Recently, I accompanied my wife (who is a Harry Potter fan) to see this movie, expecting it to be a non-offensive exercise in mild distraction. I was disappointed. J.K. Rowling, who wrote the original screenplay, set a low bar and then stumbled right under it.

One early scene features an escaped beast stealing shiny objects. While cute, it drags on…and on…and on. Fantastic Beasts is not a cartoon, so why is so much time spent on something that exists just to get the viewer interested? It’s like the editor had no say in the film, because this overuse of plotless CGI excess occurs several more times: the menagerie, when Creedence lets his obscuris go nuts, and the ending rain/reconstruction scene.

Stereotypes abound. The ethnic comedic baker, the blonde bombshell sister, the abusive Christian orphanage owner, just to name a few. It’s about here that you start to wonder why J.K Rowling wrote something so conventional, so bereft of originality. I’ve always thought that if you get to make a film, you can say anything. You have the chance to say what was unsaid before. There’s no need to regurgitate what has been fed to audiences 10,000 times before, yet Rowling does exactly that.

Rowling spends a lot of time burnishing her leftist credentials, too. Wielding her British hoighty-toityness, she declares Americans backwards because wizards are not allowed to marry no-mags (this is also a subtle accusation of racism). The wizards are biased against magical beasts, though why they blame them for the recent disturbances is never really explained. Only the brave Newt understands them and labors to free them. PETA, is that you?

She even mines neo-pagan anti-Christian bias when casting the leader of the anti-magic society as a narrow-minded, unfashionable, cruel child-beater. Lest the audience miss the point, the camera hovers on a plaque on the wall that reads “Thou shalt not”. And the leader of the US magical congress is a addressed as “madam president” — a nod to Hillary Clinton. Are you done hectoring us yet?

The plot also doesn’t make sense. The film feels like two stories were written and combined at the last minute in slapdash ways. For example, Grindelwald is mentioned over and over again by newspapers at the onset. He is not mentioned again until the end of the movie. The movie spends a lot of time tracking down who or what is causing the disturbances, but what it turns out to be is not a beast. So why do the wizards think that it is? The magic council never suspects that Grindelwald had infiltrated their organization, either. Why was Newt in America if they had shut down the breeder he was looking for a long time ago? Was he lying? Why did the wizards kill Creedence when it was obvious that he was a child? Why did Newt release the beast at the end when it couldn’t survive in an urban environment? So many plot holes, so little time.

When she isn’t cranking out a plot that doesn’t work, or trafficking in stereotypes, Rowling is simply derivative. The short, dumpy nature of Jacob and the tall spindly nature of Newt, are an obvious nod to Laurel and Hardy. Newt puts on a scarf right before he bids America farewell, which references Dr. Who. He even looks like Tom Baker! He uses a suitcase that is much larger inside than it is outside (a la the Tardis). The leader of the anti-magic society dispenses gruel in a nod to Oliver Twist. If you wanted to ensure that the audience thought you had run out of ideas, this did it.

To sum up – stereotypes, pacing/editing problems galore, nonsensical plot, anti-Christian and leftist bias. And there’s supposedly four more of these movies coming our way.

I can’t wait. Can you?

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