The Fantastic Beasts films aim to broaden the Wizarding World, but they do so at the expense of what made Harry Potter so remarkable.
The Fantastic Beasts franchise had big hopes for Warner Bros., with five films planned to recount the story of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), as well as extend the Wizarding World and expose the truth behind Gellert Grindelwald’s ascendancy (formerly played by Johnny Depp, now Mads Mikkelsen). Unfortunately for the studio, the series never really got off the ground. One of the main reasons the Fantastic Beasts films failed is that they overlook a significant aspect of what made Harry Potter so famous.
Fantastic Beasts And Where They Find Them, the first film, was a decent success, with largely positive reviews and an $814 million box office gain, which was respectable even within the Harry Potter franchise. The more significant issues allegedly began with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald, which was critically panned and failed at the box office, grossing $654 million. Fantastic Beasts has many issues, both behind the scenes and in terms of storytelling, but one of the most serious is a fundamental fault with the Wizarding World itself.
To differing degrees, all Fantastic Beasts films, including Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, aim to extend the Wizarding World by visiting new locales and introducing major reveals and narrative updates. Apart from generating plot holes in the Harry Potter films, this approach to worldbuilding misses much of what made Harry Potter so great in the first place: Hogwarts. The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been mentioned in the movies, most notably with a youthful Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Still, it’s never been the main emphasis due to the titular plots, which explains why the franchise doesn’t function as well as the Harry Potter films. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 3 Hogwarts header from The Secrets of Dumbledore IMAX poster. Hogwarts was crucial to the success of Harry Potter. That setting so successfully conveyed the series’ inherent sense of enchantment, both in the books and in the films (which, although not perfect, did a fantastic job of capturing the school’s amazement and casting Hogwarts’ professors). Harry Potter delivers the sense of escape and acceptance that made it work into so many people’s hearts and minds. It skillfully mixed reality and imagination to conjure a fully-realized sense of place for readers and viewers to dream of visiting. Fantastic Beasts and Where they Find Them is more of a globe-trotting adventure, which means there’s nothing to give it that same distinct sense of place or belonging.
This is part of the problem with even attempting to expand the Wizarding World because, unlike Middle-earth or Westeros, the genius wasn’t in an expansive, richly detailed map full of different locations but rather in a single place that tapped into the joy of imagination, wish-fulfillment, and the childish wonder that this could exist. The Harry Potter books and films featured some fantastic locations besides Hogwarts – Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and the Burrow, to name a few – but they all, for the most part, served the Hogwarts-centric story in some way, be it as a pit stop on the way there or a brief pause in the middle of the term. They felt special because, in a way, they were an extension of what made the school operate, as they fit into the school’s basic concepts of friendship, family (both biological and adopted), and acceptance.
The Fantastic Beasts films attempted to be bigger than Hogwarts, believing that they could do so by visiting more locations and introducing a new cast of characters, before quickly adjusting course to fit more closely to Harry Potter’s story – particularly Dumbledore and Grindelwald – but without recapturing what made peoples love it in the first place, and thus never truly competing. The Quidditch World Cup and the existence of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, all inside the same book/movie, worked well as indications of the more excellent Wizarding World. Still, they were always an addition to Hogwarts, never detracting from it. Of course, Hogwarts was Harry Potter’s true home, giving it an advantage over the characters in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Still, characters like Newt and Dumbledore have obvious, deep ties to the school that it should draw on more to try to remember what made the series it is based on so good.