WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
After what seems like a giant wait, the newest movie in the Harry Potter mythos is here: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them kicks off a new, five-installment movie franchise, helping to not only introduce new characters and cultures into author J.K. Rowling’s sprawling world, but to also fill in some more of the mainline Potter narrative’s backstory (in the form of Gellert Grindelwald and, at least in the sequels, Albus Dumbledore).
There are a lot of highlights along the way, of course, and we’re here to celebrate the brightest of the bright scenes in director David Yates and screenwriter Rowling’s first-ever fully original Potter film. Help us count down, then, the 15 Best Scenes in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Entering secret, magical-only areas is as old as the film and book series itself – audiences’ first time crossing Diagon Alley’s threshold in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone still ranks among the franchise’s strongest, most indelible moments – but Fantastic Beasts is more than able to make the traditional moment its own. Although “gigglewater” isn’t prohibited in the American wizarding community like it is in its No-Maj equivalent, the nightclub that Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and the sisters Porpentina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) enter positively drips with the atmosphere and electric charge of a speakeasy.
Helping to give The Blind Pig its variation on the theme is its gangster goblin owner, Gnarlak (Ron Perlman); its roaring ‘20s musical act; and its secret entrance behind the appropriately-named Blind Pig lipstick poster. It’s hard to get more American than Harlem, and it’s harder to set this new wizarding adventure further apart from its British sibling any more clearly – or any more fun.
The (mass) destruction of property was one of the more common elements in each and every single Harry Potter film, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them doesn’t disappoint in this regard – the climatic end battle against the Obscurus rampaging its way across seemingly all of New York City is one for the books. This makes the sequence in which the many, many witches and wizards that are required to fix all of the damage the most impressive such moment in the nine-movie meta-franchise.
But the scene that takes the wizarding cake in this regard is the one in which Newt races up to Jacob’s tiny, ramshackle apartment and attempts to restore it to its normal state of affairs as a still-suspicious Tina is hot on his heels, trying to track him down and see what’s caused all the magical damage. The visual and sound effects, the comedic timing, and the performances from the three main leads all combine to make a small-but-memorable scene that continues to give the film its unique voice.
There is a lot of comedy in the spinoff film, as befits any extension of the Harry Potter series, but there is one other element that Fantastic Beasts just briefly flirts with, one that doesn’t occur too often in any of the previous installments: horror.
Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), the vicious head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, spends the entire film chastising her adopted son, Credence (Ezra Miller), and beating him with his own belt, resulting in injuries that, at times, have to be magically healed. When she’s about to turn her wrath on both him and his adopted sister, Modesty (Faith Wood-Blagrove), however, Credence has had enough, and he makes the belt come alive in Mary Lou’s hand. The resulting cut is bad enough, but the suddenly-alive belt’s snake-like movements are what put the scene over the top. When coupled with the music and the actors’ performances, it’s easily one of the best moments in the entire film.
There are, as the movie’s name might imply, a number of magical creatures in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While some are more majestic and some more humorous – and all interestingly designed – the cutest, by far, is the Bowtruckle, a small, tree-like creature that normally guards wand-wood trees in Europe. Though Newt has a smattering of them in his menagerie, there is one, in particular, that has clamped unto him almost like a dog to its owner and just won’t let go (“He has separation issues,” Newt tells Jacob).
This normally-adorable relationship gets kicked into overdrive when Mr. Scamander attempts to make a deal with Gnarlak for information on where his other beasts might be currently located; the goblin has his sights set on the wooden being, and Newt seems to hand him over all-too-readily. Once everything is said and done and the magizoologist is able to recover his companion, he assures the little creature that he never truly had any intentions of really handing him over – which gets him a classic facial expression in response.
The central – though, perhaps, not the strongest – throughline in the movie revolves around the mysterious force that has been ravaging New York even before Newt Scamander and his creatures arrive on the scene. Though there is a quick, and almost half-hearted, attempt to divert attention to young-yet-still-creepy Modesty Barebone, it’s revealed to be the clearly-messed-up Credence, after all. And once he’s fully enraged at the way he’s been treated his whole life, he lets his Obscurus loose, allowing it to go on a destruction spree across the city.
Although both Newt and Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the head of Magical Security for the Magical Congress of the United States of America, both attempt to save the boy’s life (though for diametrically opposite reasons), President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) curtly orders his death. The barrage of spells from her Auror corps and the design of Credence in his “evil” form combine to create a visually stunning scene. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the film, if also one of the saddest.
If the Bowtruckle is the cutest of all the fantastic beasts on display, then the Niffler is easily the most heartwarming. Mischievous, adorable, rambunctious, and the animal that nabs the most screen time, he almost instantly becomes the face of the movie and is obviously the filmmakers’ proudest achievement, from animation to sound design to the actors’ reactions to him on the set.
There are so many engaging scenes with the little fella – especially with his long, comical romp through the bank (which ends with the gag of him containing a truly unbelievable amount of shiny goodies in his furry pockets) – but the one moment that shines the brightest is his meager attempt at disguising himself as a statue in a jewelry store’s display case. His ridiculous pose, the bracelets and necklaces hanging off of him, and Mr. Scamander’s double-take of the tableau all are simply priceless – no pun intended.
Though only getting a limited amount of screen time, David Yates and his crew manage to give the African Erumpent a great number of engaging moments, from his introduction as a mysterious, glowing object swimming under a sheet of ice to his full-out charge against Jacob Kowalski, chasing him through a zoo and its surrounding park area, resulting in its sticking a tree with its menacing horn and making it explode in spectacular fashion (thanks to the horn’s volatile injections). It is, in many ways, the most dynamic of the magical creatures.
The beat that steals its time in the film, however, is the type of mating dance that Newt engages the Erumpent with, attempting to get it to respond in kind and roll over into the magizoologist’s carrying case. Eddie Redmayne’s performance is both spot-on and absolutely hilarious; his awkward movements and ridiculous sounds are easily one of the funniest scenes, and that’s saying a lot, given the movie’s general comedic tilt.
Even funnier still is Mr. Jacob Kowalski, the story’s everyman.
Inserting a No-Maj as a major lead into a Harry Potter installment was both brave and incredibly risky, as (a) audiences have, by this point, been submerged in the wizarding community for the past 19 years, making the novelty of his unbelieving responses threadbare, at best, and (b) the character runs the extreme danger of becoming the Potter equivalent of Star Wars’s Jar Jar Binks.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Jacob circumvents both of these potential traps, and his performance is such a resounding success that many of the movie’s best and funniest moments directly involve him. Case in point: his short, high-pitched scream both at the sight of Newt magically disappearing into his briefcase and after downing some giggle juice for the very first time. It’s so comedically effective, in fact, that the whole picture could’ve consisted of his telltale response and it still wouldn’t lose its vibrancy.
And here’s yet another example of Jacob Kowalski’s central importance to Fantastic Beasts’s success, particularly of the emotional variety.
When Tina Goldstein reluctantly brings the No-Maj and Newt back to her place for the night, Queenie is only too happy to prepare dinner for them. The been-there, done-that presentation of the meal magically assembling itself is peppered with some of the franchise’s best visual effects yet and is absolutely sold by Jacob’s open-mouthed appreciation of the display – and of the food itself, which he gobbles with relish. Viewers can’t help but smile along with him.
The response goes a long way to providing a warm, relaxing respite from the film’s hectic antics, something which becomes doubly important, considering that there is no Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – with its comfy, familiar environment – to welcome either the characters or the audience.
There may be no Hogwarts Castle, but there is the Magical Congress of the United States of America’s lavish headquarters. Situated within the Woolworth Building, it is a majestic, opulent space; the fact that the skyscraper’s 60 stories are all carved out to create a cavernous main area is breathtaking, and the various Art Deco design touches are refreshingly elegant. Its giant, central, pendulum-esque display showing the current state of magical danger is a nice thematic callback to various similar contraptions in all eight original Harry Potter movies, and its hidden front door, which shunts wizards into the appropriate alternate building, is a suitably nice touch.
What’s even nicer is the opportunity that both Yates and Rowling afford the camera – and the viewer – to get acquainted with the space, to briefly explore its confines before finding our characters and continuing the action. Hogwarts School never got such a grand introduction, and it almost makes one wish that the current filmmaking team could go back to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to correct the oversight.
Although it’s initially hard to believe, there’s an even better, even more effective introductory sequence contained in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Viewers’ tour around Newt Scamander’s enchanted briefcase goes a little something like this. There is, first, the reveal that the wizard can climb inside (and so can the No-Maj Jacob, though with a bit more difficulty). Then there’s the vestibule of sorts, a woodshed-esque room that contains a number of rare magical ingredients and types of equipment. From there, there are the various “roped-off” environs that house the beasts themselves, ranging from tropical paradise to frozen wasteland and practically everything in between. (The fabric cloths that partition one landscape from the next is one of the single coolest effects in all nine movies.)
The flow from one beat to the next, the diversity of the visuals, the collection of extraordinary animals, the actual physical layout itself, and, finally, Newt’s casualness and Jacob’s dumbfoundedness all add up to one sequence that will truly be hard to beat in any of the subsequent four installments – though we’re happy to see David Yates and his team try.
It comes as something of a surprise when the movie goes ahead with the threat that’s been plaguing Jacob literally the entire time: casting an obliviate spell on him, making him forget all the wondrous sights he’s seen – and the magical people he’s met. Fantastic Beasts makes up for this, however, when it drops the other wizarding shoe and pays off the character’s arc. First Newt delivers a suitcase full of silver and gold in order to secure the No-Maj’s bank loan to start up his own bakery. And then, secondly, we get to see what this immediately-popular shop actually looks like – and, much to viewers’ delight, it’s populated with culinary versions of the very fantastic beasts that Jacob spent the movie helping Newt corral and tend to.
It’s a cute moment, but it itself is topped by another conclusion: Queenie’s arrival at the bakery, smiling at the newfound chef with nothing but love. And when you add in Jacob’s own response – a smile that just might indicate some sort of distant memory being triggered – you have a storybook-perfect ending for the couple.
For now, at least.
What’s astounding about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, even given its setting some eight decades before the Harry Potter films, is its adherence to its own original additions to the mythology; not one familiar face or location makes an appearance in its two-hour runtime.
That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t some notable name-drops to be had. Leda Lestrange, Newt’s former school crush (if not more), is an ancestor (grandmother, perhaps?) to Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter), the infamous baddie from the later Harry Potters, and viewers not only get treated to several references to Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the original Dark Wizard of his time (and Albus Dumbledore’s [Michael Gambon] former lover), but also a surprise cameo, as well (more on this in just a moment).
But arguably the biggest bit of connective tissue is in the utterance of Dumbledore’s name, thanks both to why the reference was made (he’s the only Hogwarts professor to stand up for Newt during his expulsion) and how (it’s Grindelwald-in-disguise who makes note of the matter, setting up his future relationship with the teacher in future films).
How does an execution work in the wizarding world? It’s not, perhaps, a question that would occur to most fans, but it’s one that has a dramatically – and visually – satisfying payoff in the movie.
A chair hovering over some type of lethal liquid is meant to house the criminal. A memory of long-lost loved ones is extracted from the subject’s mind and deposited in the substance below, allowing a version of the departed to beckon to the victim and entice him to come on in. In Porpentina Goldstein’s case, it’s the mother who unexpectedly died when Tina and her sister were just little, and seeing her immediately makes the witch go from upset to happy in the bat of an eye. Her subsequent seduction – and the shapeshifting of the liquid – is a sight to behold.
But this being a Potter story, there is always the convoluted overarching plot to work with, as well; in this instance, in addition to seeing her mum, Tina is also treated to seeing some visions of Mary Lou and her son, Credence, whom Goldstein had attempted to assist previously (and which cost her her Auror job). It’s enough to seal the scene’s greatness.
There’s a couple of caveats to dole out here. Yes, it’s not unusual for a Harry Potter film to end with a sudden reveal or twist (we’re thinking of Mad-Eyed Moody [Brendan Gleeson] here), making it more formulaic than dramatic. Yes, Johnny Depp’s last-minute cameo doesn’t feel like the most organic of developments. And, yes, we all expected the story to eventually drift towards Grindelwald’s ongoing war in Europe, anyway.
Still, with all that said, getting a chance to see the original Voldemort (Ralph Fienness) in all his (goofy, Johnny Depp-ism) glory is still one of the film’s biggest thrills – it marks the story coming full circle, given that it opened on the Dark Wizard’s deathly antics, and it provides a better context for its central magical McGuffin, the Obscurus.
Yet its most effective dramatic component is in its teasing of what’s to come in the second installment (and beyond!), meaning that just as audiences are getting a resolution to the fantastic-beasts-running-amok-in-New-York storyline, they can start looking forward to the next, even bigger one.
What great little moments did we see? Or giant action scenes? Sound off in the comments.