Just as we thought that the incredible warmth of the Harry Potter movies was over for good, along came author J.K. Rowling with an entirely new prequel series of films. Though the Cornish Pixies are about to hit the fan (and probably take a very dark turn) in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, we can still take a moment and enjoy the first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
My enjoyment of the film was unexpected. I'm certainly a huge Potter fan, though my expectations for the film weren't sky-high. Let's just say that I was amazed and enchanted when I watched the movie for the first time— unlike every other Potter film, this movie has no book to hold it up against, as the fun "in-world" book that Rowling wrote with the same title is more of a dictionary than a story. I wasn't sitting there comparing and contrasting what the book did better or what moments I wish had been done differently— I just sat back, and took it all in.
The whimsy and magic of Rowling's wizarding world was definitely on display, and a seriously fantastic score by James Newton Howard helped things immensely. He's coming back for the sequel, and here's hoping he does the entire series. The Potter films always had great music, but they never had great musical continuity. Composers tagging in and out constantly.
Between Rowling's story, Howard's score, and some wonderfully charming performances, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feels like sipping a mug of butterbeer in front of a roaring fire. Let's take a look at six moments in the film that tend to warm hearts the most... they are unranked, because I have no interest in ranking joy. I simply like to roll around in it like it was a hand-made Weasley blanket.
Dinner with the Goldsteins
I'll get the obvious out of the way right now— this list is going to feature a lot of Queenie Goldstein. As played by Alison Sudol, Queenie is the giant, glowing, pulsing heart and soul of this movie. My heart flutters every second that she is on screen, and it's not just because she happens to be beautiful. It's because she radiates kindness and love in a way that few other characters could even begin to manage.
Her relationship to her sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) is a wonderful thing, but it is when Queenie is paired with no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) that things really start to soar like a Thunderbird. He's honest and kind, and so is she. Naturally, when put together, it's an overload of emotion and warmth.
The scene where Newt (Eddie Redmayne) and Jacob have dinner with the Goldsteins is the first of these moments, as it's the first time that Jacob and Queenie are meeting. She guesses right away that he's a strudel guy (probably without reading his mind) and our new magical squad of four settles in for another wizarding world meal for the ages. It's a lovely meeting of what will soon become a "found family." It makes me want to sing.
Jacob enters Newt's suitcase
A good amount of the magic in this film gets a perfect audience in the form of Jacob (a no-maj), who is just learning that magic is real. He sees some crazy stuff go down in the first part of the film, but nothing beats his first real trip down the rabbit hole, or, to be more precise, his first trip into Newt's suitcase.
Everything about Newt's suitcase is incredible, but that's already been written about. It's a TARDIS-like wonderland that Newt can carry around with him, and I want one. It is Jacob's reactions that really sell it— not only that such a vast space can exist within a tiny case, but also that the incredible magical creatures all around him are real.
Fogler perfectly captures every moment here, with a perpetual look of "I can't believe this is happening" on his face. Not only is it real, but he's lucky enough to be seeing it. He's entered a whole new world of wonder, and he is so pure of heart that we are delighted for him to be seeing it all.
You're one of us now
The escape from MACUSA is a great scene, with Newton churning up the score full force and Newt using the Swooping Evil to fantastic effect. In the midst of all of this, there's one little moment between Jacob and Queenie that steals the show.
After Queenie does a bit of blackmail (that still manages to be heartwarming in and of itself) she grabs Jacob and starts planning how to help Tina and Newt. Jacob is surprised by this, and asks her about his being obliviated— everyone has said that this has to happen, he's a no-maj, he's seen too much, so his memory has to be wiped. Queenie even play-acts that she's intending to do this during her heartwarming blackmail.
Of course she's not actually going to do it, though. Jacob can hardly believe it, and when he asks her if she's really not gonna do it, she responds with, "Of course not! You're one of us now."
I mean...it's not just the line itself, although it is a great line. It's the way Sudol delivers it, and once again, it's also the disbelief and "how did I ever get so lucky" look from Jacob. As delivered by Sudol, she was never (ever, ever) going to erase the mind of this regular guy she has met. They're a team, and she lets him know. It makes me want to SING.
Does Leta Lestrange like to read?
It can't be all Queenie and Jacob all the time, I know, I know. That's fine, because the movie also has Newt and Tina who are so into each other by the film's end that it's not even remotely funny.
Newt and Tina are both fairly awkward around other people. They're both very kind, but they've both been hurt. They have walls, but gradually these respective barriers get taken down over the course of the film— their walls with each other get taken down completely.
Their (temporary) goodbye at the film's end is a great scene for so many reasons. For one thing, it features Tina actually saying the title of Newt's book (and the movie itself) with a beaming smile. It also features her ever so gently knocking back the final piece of the wall between her and Newt— she knows that Newt keeps a photo of Leta Lestrange in his magical menagerie, but she doesn't really know what their relationship actually is. It's obvious (to us) that she's crushing on Newt (it's mutual) so she bravely asks, "Does Leta Lestrange like to read?"
Waterston's vulnerability here is insane. She's put herself out on the ledge, and thankfully Newt doesn't leave her there— he quickly lets her know that there's nothing between him and Leta (and there probably never really was). He doesn't really know what to do, so he says he'll send her a copy of his book once it's done. He goes to board his ship.
Then...he doesn't. Instead, he puts himself out on the ledge as well and goes back to Tina. He suggests that he could deliver a copy of his book to Tina in person, with a similar look of extreme vulnerability showing in Redmayne's eyes. Tina lights up so brightly that the sun gets jealous, and she says that she would really like that.
There's also the moment where Newt brushes a strand of Tina's hair back behind her ear. It's a small gesture, yet very intimate and very loving. He might as well have written her sixteen sonnets while brushing back that hair. Come on. It makes me want to... you know. Sing.
Flight of the Thunderbird
This is not a list of swoon-worthy moments, is it? I'm confused, because so far it's been a good amount of starry-eyed romance. Not every heartwarming moment in this film comes from awkward nerd wizards falling in love, some of it comes from, believe it or not, the fantastic beasts. With the movie being titled what it is, who could've seen that coming?
In the film's finale, Newt and his Thunderbird friend Frank save the day. Not just the day, but also the city of New York and the wizarding world at large. MACUSA have chased them down for the entire film, but Newt and Frank are going to help anyway.
Newt apologizes that he couldn't get Frank all the way back home to Arizona before setting him free to obliviate the entire city. Frank soars through the skies, opening up rainclouds of Forget-Me-Now in liquid form, and scores of wizards and witches repair destroyed sections of the city as this happens. It's not rare for a movie to destroy a city in its finale — it is rare to see it be magically restored piece by piece. Not only that, but the most fantastic beast of them all (aside from the Swooping Evil, maybe) flies free while they do it.
All of this is lovely, but it is Howard's score that gives everything the real power. His music for the scene soars as high as Frank himself, and the emotion it brings forth is staggering. His epic thematic strains wash over you like a warm bath, and all is right with the world for a few moments. I don't need to sing for this one— Howard has done it for me.
The Return of the Queenie
Well that didn't last long, back to Jacob and Queenie we go! Apologies, but there really is no containing these two. They should probably have their own list, but we're almost done, so... Queenie's gonna Queen.
The movie begins with Jacob expressing how he wants to build a bakery so he can make people happy. He gets turned down, and then goes on a magical adventure— thanks to Newt's generosity, he finally is able to achieve his dream at the end of the film. His bakery is open for business, and business is booming.
He may have had his memory wiped (in a heartbreaking scene with Queenie, not on this list because it hurts), but something is staying with him — all of his gorgeous baked goods come in the form of the fantastic beasts that we've met along the way. He doesn't know where the images come from, all he knows is that they make his customers happy. He is in his element, doing what he loves, and he's achieved his dream.
Almost. There's only one thing missing.
Right at the end, who should appear in his bakery? Queenie, of course. Jacob gives her a look of slight puzzlement, and then something that resembles recognition. Does he remember her? It seems like he might. Whether he does or not, she definitely remembers him. He slightly moves to touch his beast-wound from earlier, and she smiles at him. With no words passed between them, he smiles back. With that, we go right to the credits.
If you watch the entire movie and this moment doesn't warm your heart even a teeny, tiny bit, well, check yourself for a pulse. Find a mirror and check to make sure that there is a reflection, because I don't see how anybody couldn't feel something here.
This is also why I'm worried. I'm worried because I'm invested in Queenie and Jacob, as well as in Newt and Tina. I'm worried because Grindelwald is about to break free in the sequel, and anything can happen. I'm worried that awful things will go down and that at least one of these precious creatures may snuff it. Rowling has a way of making us love a character (Sirius Black, Remus Lupin) and then throwing them into the mystical veil, so to speak. I'm pretty sure that Jacob will get at least some of his memory back, so that's good — but Queenie looks like she's in agony in almost every moment of the trailers. The thought of any harm coming to our new magical fab four doesn't make me want to sing... it makes me want to cry uncontrollably.
Stay away from these four, GrindelDepp. Stay far, far away.