I’ve read the first three Harry Potter books so far, just enough to see that there are some weighty themes lurking beneath the surface. Then on Friday I went to see Fantastic Beasts, the new movie that kicks off another wave of the franchise.
Considering only the setup, Beasts could be taken as a similarly childlike tale. An accident-prone zoologist and his bumbling sidekick get themselves into a whole lot of trouble on a trip to New York City, and only manage to escape thanks to a little help from his lovable animal friends. There’s plenty of slapstick comedy, dressed up in the very best modern CGI, and even a perfectly chaste love interest. Kids movie.
Except … there’s more going on. Our British visitor encounters an American (magical) government that
- Is structured as a gigantic secretive bureaucracy
- Forbids miscegenation (with non-magical people)
- Routinely implements the death penalty without effective due-process protection
- Has been infiltrated by crypto-Nazis
It’s hard not to hear our British screenwriter’s voice in our British hero’s judgmental astonishment, and it’s hard not to see American society and government past and present being politely skewered by proxy.
I think this combination of light comedy and deeper commentary is a winning formula.