On the one hand, there is a lot in common between the eight-picture-long Harry Potter film series (which ran from 2001 to 2011) and its new spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (which is due on November 18, 2016). There is, for instance, the same executive producer, David Heyman, and the production designer, Stuart Craig, and the director, David Yates, who helmed the last four Potter installments, and so on and so forth. And, oh, yeah – there’s also the little presence of someone named J.K. Rowling, the author of the HP novels and creative consultant on their corresponding movies, who is writing her very first screenplay for Fantastic Beasts.
On the other hand, however, there’s even more that’s drastically different, which we now know thanks to Entertainment Weekly’s recent coverage of the film. It’s illustrative to spell these out, just to see what kind of new Rowling-written tale we have awaiting us next fall, and important for audiences to make sure they have their expectations in check; Harry Potter this most certainly will not be, and the sooner fans embrace this simple fact, the sooner they’ll be able to enjoy themselves all over again.
Let’s cast some magic on the 10 Differences between Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, then – but only if you’re comfortable having a basic level of knowledge about the new film’s premise and cast of characters. We don’t want to “spoil” anyone who’s not ready to know anything about the new wizarding adventure, after all.
The source material
Harry Potter started off life, of course, as a series of seven novels, which served as the basis for the film adaptations. Fantastic Beasts also began as a book, but its origin, nature, and route to the screen is fundamentally different.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was published in 2001, in-between the fourth and fifth Potter installments, as a real-world representation of the fictitious textbook that Harry, Ron, and Hermione all read at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry; it features Newt Scamander’s name on the cover instead of Rowling’s, and Harry and Ron’s handwritten notes have been inserted throughout the interior. Both it and its sister volume, Quidditch through the Ages, were released to help raise money for the British charity Comic Relief.
When Warner Bros. was dreaming up a way to extend its ultra-lucrative film franchise, it floated the idea of doing a faux-documentary about Newt researching and writing his famous textbook to Rowling. The author responded by presenting her own pitch: the brand-new, untold story of Newt’s life and adventures, which would ultimately be the basis for his academic project.
The main characters
Instead of a trio of adolescents from the progenitor movies, Fantastic Beasts will deliver a quartet of leads that are all in their mid-30s (or, at least, the actors who portray them are).
Newton Artemis Fido “Newt” Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a magizoologist who travels the world collecting and researching various magical creatures, which he keeps in his rather normal-looking case; much like Hermione’s tent, it’s been enchanted to be far, far larger on the inside, housing a series of exotic habitats for Newt’s various rare and endangered species.
Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is an employee at the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is the Yankee version of England’s Ministry of Magic. Punished by her bosses for her activism, she meets and then falls in love with Newt, ultimately – as all die-hard Potter heads know – marrying him.
Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) is Tina’s bombshell younger sister and roommate. Not much has been divulged about her beyond the fact that she is a “big-hearted free spirit” and an accomplished legilimens (that’s wizarding speak for “mind reader”), much in the vein of Severus Snape.
Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) is, intriguingly enough, a no-maj (the American term for muggle), who ends up being exposed to the wizarding world when he runs into Newt. Jacob is a factory worker and aspiring baker and promises to be a main character unlike any other in a Harry Potter film – or novel – yet.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book and movie, is set in 1991, with each following release taking place in each subsequent year, ending in 1997 (the novels were completed in 2007, and the films in 2011, just for comparison’s sake). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them jumps back in time 65 years, to 1926.
It also hops across the pond to the United States of America, switching out Scotland for New York City. The change in time is a necessary one, given Newt’s age and pre-established role in the HP back story, but the change in venue is an interesting creative choice made by J.K. Rowling herself: the original proposal from Warner Bros. followed Newt as he traveled all over the world to add to his magical menagerie, but Rowling opted to create his now-famous travelling case/portable zoo and instead keep his feet planted in one solitary location. This allows her to spin one very specific story featuring one specific culture in one specific time.
Harry Potter was, essentially, a coming-of-age story told across seven years that just so happened to feature the ultimate, no-holds-barred battle of good versus evil as its climax. The spinoff will still feature characters coming into their own, of course, and falling in love and having to face a series of psychologically and magically intense challenges, but it also has more of an action-adventure feel, right from the start.
Arriving at New York City for a meeting with the Magical Congress, hijinks ensue and all the various fantastic beasts that Newt Scamander has managed to collect in his briefcase somehow escape. Hunting them down and scooping them back safely up forms the spine of the new movie’s plot.
But protecting an unsuspecting populace from these creatures, some of whom are very dangerous, is only the beginning – there’s also that little trifle of attempting to keep the wizarding community’s presence amongst the no-majs (the American pejorative for non-magical humans, or “muggles”) hidden and secure. This seems to be Fantastic Beasts’s real narrative.
Although keeping magic users out of the public eye is of the utmost importance in the United Kingdom, it takes on a far more sinister importance in the United States, thanks chiefly to the country’s colonial past and its infamous Salem witchcraft trials.
It turns out that the witch hunt has never abated – it’s just become more secret, much like the wizarding world itself. The main antagonists in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are the New Salem Philanthropic Society, also known as the Second Salemers, whose stated mission is not only to expose magic-users, but to also exterminate them. Leading the group is Mary Lou (Samantha Morton), a “narrow-minded” fanatic.
Given such a drastically darker overtone, it’s no surprise that rounding up Newt’s rare and exotic animals is so important – should Mary Lou and her lot of zealots learn of their existence and manage to close in even further on the American wizarding community, it would lead to a huge uptick in violence and fear.
Given all this – marauding magical creatures, bloodthirsty witch hunters, secret communities living on edge – it’s absolutely no surprise to hear director David Yates tell Entertainment Weekly that the new film feels “a wee bit more grown-up” than the main Harry Potter series. (Also helping matters is the little fact that the main cast features no children.)
It’s an interesting choice, and one that complements all the other changes to the Potter formula quite well, from the older characters to the greater levels of political – or, at least, social– intrigue. It also has JK Rowling’s creative fingerprints all over it; a movie studio may be content to endlessly extend its franchise, but a creator wants to justify its proliferation, to find new material to explore and directions to head off in. And it’s no secret that the author’s been quite keen on moving into adult territory, with her political The Casual Vacancy (2012), her detective trilogy, Cormoran Strike (2013-2015), and her self-help Very Good Lives (2015) all being successful endeavors in their own rights.
The effect that the switch from a remote, serene castle to a bustling cosmopolitan city has on the feel of the movie can’t be overstated – it’s no surprise to say that its energy levels will be higher, and that its pace will be quicker. (Of course, switching out the premise from “studying at school while avoiding Death Eaters” to “hunting down highly unusual animals before they kill or expose everyone” certainly doesn’t hurt in these departments.)
What is surprising is a little paradox that production designer Stuart Craig notes. Despite the jump back 90 years in time, Fantastic Beasts, he notes, feels more modern than the Harry Potter entries. This is due to the presence of skyscrapers and traffic, even if they’re noticeably different from their counterparts in the current New York, and the absence of the 1,000-year-old Hogwarts Castle, replete with its medieval-style wizarding robes, torches, and ink-and-parchment writing utensils.
The story structure
Since Harry Potter had eight installments to work with, the advancement of the overarching story tended to happen in fits and starts; Voldemort was revealed to still be alive in the first film, but he didn’t return to power until three movies later, and then didn’t actively start the new wizarding war until movie number six. Expect Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to move at a distinctly faster clip, and not just because of the greater injection of action-adventure into the narrative mix – the new sub-series will only be a trilogy.
This also means that audiences can expect a more traditional story structure overall. This first movie will set up all the characters and through-lines that will continue on throughout the remainder of the story; the second part will be the big, cliffhanging twist; and the third will be one large, epic climax, resolving everything in grand fashion.
The wizarding world’s capital
The American wizarding world has already been revealed to be a largely different affair than its counterpart across the Atlantic, what with its hunted status and all, but perhaps the biggest illustration of the differences between the two is the architecture of their seats of power.
The Magical Congress of the United States of America building is a grander, bolder affair, buoyed by the latest architectural trends of the New World. It’s housed inside the Woolworth Building in Manhattan, which was the tallest skyscraper in New York at the time and still remains one of the 20 tallest structures to this day. The interior has been completely gutted by the witches and wizards, resulting in a 700-foot-tall “empty cathedral of light,” according to production designer Stuart Craig. This magical touch should be a nice complement to the building’s Neo-Gothic style.
Don’t fret, however – Rowling’s now-standard magical everyday objects are still present, such as an ultra-fast-spinning revolving door being the wizarding entrance and sweeping statues being placed in the atrium (though, here, they’re four golden phoenixes as opposed to a fountain of a wizard, witch, centaur, goblin, and house-elf).
As should be abundantly clear by now, there are many witches and wizards (and no-majs!) present in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and there’s no doubt that many a spell – both familiar and old – will be featured right alongside them.
But, obviously, the main brunt of the magical focus of the new film will be in the titular creatures that Newt and his hodgepodge crew will have to track down and reclaim. Magical beasts have already been featured in Harry Potter in ways both large and small, from Dobby the house-elf to the nasty dragon that Harry had to duel against in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and several of these have been quietly confirmed to make return appearances in the spinoff. The main attraction, however, is undoubtedly the never-before-seen-on-the-big-screen varieties, of which the Fantastic Beasts book has many – you can find a full listing of them here.
And then there’s at least one fantastic animal that looks to be invented explicitly for this film, making it new to all branches of the Potter faithful. What it is, the filmmakers won’t say, but expect to see plenty of tie-in merchandise celebrating it.
Think this spinoff will be even better than the Harry Potter movies? Come up with a few more differences that will be key to understanding – and enjoying – Fantastic Beasts? Be sure to share with everyone else in the online wizarding world below.