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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel to the Harry Potter movies. Based on J.K. Rowling's original story, it takes place in 1920s New York City and follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist and author of a Hogwarts textbook that catalogs magical creatures. As per usual in the Potter saga, you can expect plenty of fantasy violence, some of which ends in deaths (a couple are pretty gruesome). There's also mass destruction, although the property destroyed is magically fixed, and the minds of the No-Maj ("no magic") folks are always erased. Wizards engage in wand battles, two wizards are sentenced to death and nearly killed, and an out-of-control form of magic nearly destroys whole swaths of Manhattan. A character's mother beats him with a belt (welts, cuts are shown on his hands). One scene takes place in a speakeasy, where adult characters order drinks, and there's a bit of light romance between couples that ends in goodbye kisses, longing looks, and brief caresses. Unlike the original Harry Potter movies, the main characters here are all adults, and the story is much more of a grown-up suspense/thriller than a kid-centric adventure. But themes and messages include curiosity, compassion, and courage, and the main characters are all strong role models.
What's the story?
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM opens in 1926. British magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in Manhattan with a briefcase full of magical creatures. Unfortunately for Scamander, a few of his friends -- which are illegal to breed or keep in the United States -- escape right around the same time that the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is investigating a series of dark magical events. When demoted Auror (magical law enforcement officer) Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) discovers that Scamander has not only lost a few of his beasts but has also exposed a No-Maj (short for "no magic" -- the American term for Muggles) bystander, Kowalski (Dan Fogler), to the magical realm, she tries to bring him in, only to be shooed away by her superiors. Eventually, the two men, Tina, and her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), end up working together to find Newt's missing creatures and clear their names of any connection to the forces of darkness that have killed a prominent No-Maj. Meanwhile, Director of Magical Security Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is quietly tracking the possible source of the dark magic.
Is it any good?
Immersing yourself in JK Rowling's magical universe is always entertaining, but fans should know that this exploration of America's wizarding world is definitely a more grown-up movie. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them isn't set in child-friendly Hogwarts, full of House-sorted students going to class and learning about magical creatures. This is 1920s Manhattan, where magical characters face a very separatist attitude toward those without magic, as well as a frightening dark force that's a threat to all New Yorkers. The period cityscape provides a wonderful contrast to Scamander's amazing personal zoo, which he keeps hidden in his briefcase (that briefcase must use an even more impressive spell than Hermione's purse in Deathly Hallows). All the wildly imaginative creatures are a marvel to look at, from the adorable Niffler, who loves to hunt for shiny things, to the Groot-like Bowtruckle, to the enormous hippo-like Erumpent and the awesome Thunderbird.
The performances are led by a perfectly cast Redmayne as the curious, kind Scamander, who just wants to protect the magical creatures. Fogler is fabulous as his No-Maj friend, a factory worker who dreams of owning a bakery. The Goldstein sisters are opposites but both easy to root for -- with smart, capable Tina a bit reminiscent of Hermione and Queenie a lovely, Luna Lovegood-esque optimist. The villains aren't quite as grand as the Big Bad Voldemort, but it's clear that the anti-"witch" New Salemers (including secretly magic-curious Credence, played with creepy goodness by Ezra Miller) and whoever is suppressing and unleashing their magic aren't the only people to be wary of in New York. The characters' developing friendships and romances are kept pretty tween appropriate, but the violence and themes might be too much for single-digit-aged Potterheads.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which can be very dark and disturbing at times, is appropriate for younger Harry Potter fans. What parts might be too much? (For more, check out our age-by-age guide to Harry Potter.)
Is Newt Scamander a role model? How does he demonstrate curiosity, courage, and compassion? Why are those important character strengths? What about the other characters? Are Tina and Queenie strong female characters?
What are some of the dangers of bullying and abuse? What effect did bullying and abuse have on Credence? Can keeping magic inside be a parallel for keeping emotions bottled up? What are healthy ways to express emotions?
Newt cares very deeply about his magical creatures, even though many people think they're dangerous. Is there an environmental message in the movie? Why are things scarier when they're unknown?
What are some of the differences and similarities between the American and British wizarding communities? What do you think about the laws forbidding American wizards from marrying or even interacting with a "no-maj"? What parallels can be drawn to the real world?
- In theaters: November 18, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: March 28, 2017
- Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler
- Director: David Yates
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Curiosity
- Run time: 133 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some fantasy action violence
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.