Maybe you’ve already laid out your Hufflepuff scarf and started perfecting your best Professor Snape accent; or maybe you have little interest in magic-spewing wands and sorting hats. Either way, unless you were living under a horcrux for the last few months, you know that Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, the prequel to Harry Potter, hits theaters this weekend.
The movie lacks everyone’s favorite near-sighted, lightning-scarred hero and takes place in New York in the 20s, 70 years before Harry and his pals ever crack open a cauldron. It focuses instead on Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the author of a Hogwarts textbook on magical monsters and dragons and concerns a mistakenly unlocked suitcase of magical animals and a mysterious force threatening to destroy New York and expose its witching and wizarding community (naturally). To clear his name and track down his beasts, Newt joins forces with non-magic Jacob (Dan Fogelman), Porpentina (Katherine Waterston), an auror (basically a magic cop), and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who can read minds. Meanwhile, a broody Colin Farrell follows their trail by tracking down the source of the dark magic.
Will your kid still be into a Harry movie that doesn’t actually feature “the boy who lived”? Or should you save your gold galleons? Here’s what the critics are saying to help you decide.
For Kids: It wouldn’t be a Harry Potter movie if it wasn’t kind of dark, but critics say the heavier themes of this installment don’t overpower all the magic stuff your kid is really in it for. “Rowling’s screenplay skillfully balances the dark and light; the cheerful frolics, friendship and romance serve as a reminder to the characters of just what they are fighting for,” writes Katherine McLaughlin for The List. And your kid doesn’t necessarily need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Harry’s adventures what’s going on. Brian Truitt of USA Today writes, “Whether you’re a Potterhead or not, Beasts creates a story that’s both original and enchanting,” and it’s “a confident and surprisingly funny adventure that’s more charming than most of the eight Harry Potter films.”
For You: Even if you’ve been out of the Harry Potter game for a minute, critics say Fantastic Beasts will suck you right back in. “It’s still a pleasure to revisit the author’s world,” writes Moira McDonald for the Seattle Times. Actually, you might even be more into it than your kid. Us Weekly’s Mara Reinstein says that “Rowling, who wrote the screenplay, has layered a sophisticated and surprisingly dark origin story that will appeal more to grownups than the younger set,” and The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Tirdad Derakhshani says the story’s message “might be wildly out of place in a fantasy aimed at tweens, but it’s a welcome change from the usual vapid blockbuster.” So, it’s not not a kid’s movie, but there are definitely some parts that will hit you like an Expelliarmus hex, but whizz over your kid’s head like a golden snitch.
Common Sense’s Take: Common Sense Media is the leading nonprofit source for helping parents make movie and TV choices for their kids. They say that the characters in Fantastic Beasts are strong role models for kids, and the movie has strong themes of “curiosity, courage, and compassion.” But parents should know that there’s also fair amount of death and destruction, including the murder of a prominent No-Maj and some gruesome deaths following gnarly wand battles. That kind of stuff is pretty typical for any story in the Potter universe, but with an all-adult cast, it feels more like a suspense/thriller film than a whimsical adventure, and could be too grown-up for kids under 12.
Bottom Line: Whether you love or hate Harry & Co., Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a fall blockbuster that will have you and your (older) kid mesmerized by the magic and rooting for the wizarding outsiders. And the fictional 20s themes around how fear breeds intolerance and inequality will resonate strongly for our times.
Running Time: 133 minutes