Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Movie: Directed by David Yates.

Inciting Event: When Newt is arrested by disgraced investigative officer Tina, his magical case is accidentally exchanged for the case full of donuts, belonging to the “No-Mag” Jacob Kowalski. As a result, he is released by Graves and the head of MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States), who have bigger fish to fry, thanks to strange magical disturbance that is destroying buildings in New York City.

First Plot Point: While spending the night at the apartment of Tina and her sister Queenie, Newt shows Jacob the inside of his case—which is a huge zoo, containing dozens of fantastic beasts. He learns which of his animals escaped previously, during the disturbance that got him arrested, and he introduces Jacob to Frank—the thunderbird whom Newt has come to American to return to its home in Arizona.

First Pinch Point: Newt and Jacob chase through Central Park after his lost animals, barely capturing a particularly dangerous erumpent. Meanwhile, the dark magical force kills a senatorial hopeful—the son of a powerful newspaper magnate.

Of all the structural beats here, the pinch points are notably weak and reveal the overall lack of a solid throughline harmonizing the story’s external conflict (MACUSA vs. the Obscurus) with that of its protagonist, Newt, and his quest to find his escaped animals.

Midpoint: Tina snags Newt’s case while he and Jacob are inside and delivers them to MACUSA, only to have Graves decide the dark force must be one of Newt’s creatures. He sentences all three of them to execution. While in prison, Newt reveals he knows what the dark force is—an Obscurus, resulting from a child’s suppressed magic. Just as Tina is about to be executed, they escape with Queenie’s help.

Second Pinch Point: Newt, Jacob, Tina, and Queenie track down the last of his missing creatures—a huge snake-like occamy. Again, this scene has little to do with the external conflict—which gets its own pinch when the prejudiced leader of the anti-magic “New Salemer” movement is murdered by the Obscurus, which appears to reside in her adopted daughter.

Third Plot Point: Graves seeks out the Obscurus, only to discover it is really a teenage boy named Credence. Credence, feeling betrayed by Graves (who promised to teach him magic, only to reveal he believes Credence is a squib—or magic-less). He loses control, turns back into the Obscurus, and begins wreaking havoc on the city.

Although a fine Third Plot Point for the external plot, this fails to have much of anything to do directly with Newt. He sees the problem and rushes to try to help, but it isn’t a personal battle in any sense.

Climax: MACUSA shows up to kill Credence before he can reveal their presence to the No-Mag world. Newt rushes to try to save Credence before he is destroyed by his own Obscurus.

Climactic Moment: The story’s scattered throughlines reveal themselves in its scattered Climactic Moments. Is the Climactic Moment Credence’s apparent death? Is it the moment when Graves is unmasked as the European terrorist Grindelwald? Is it when Newt frees Frank? Or is it when New York City is “obliviated” into forgetting the magical battle they just witnessed?

The Climactic Moment should always be the answer to the question raised in the Inciting Event. They’re bookends. Here, however, there isn’t a clear correlation between Inciting Event and Climactic Moment. Frank’s release corresponds most closely to the Inciting Event, and yet this was not a conflict that was explored at all in the main part of the story.

Resolution: Newt gives an obliviated Jacob enough silver occamy eggs to help him start his dream of a bakery. He leaves New York, promising Tina he will come back to deliver her a copy of his book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Notes: Frankly, the structure in this story is extremely problematic. It’s scattered, with no clear throughline, and little to tie the various plotlines together. It’s an utter coincidence that Newt and the Obscurus both happen to be in New York City at the same time, and, as a result, utterly incidental that Newt has any part in stopping it. Similarly, Newt has no relationship to the main antagonistic Graves throughout the story, which both weakened this story and will undoubtedly weaken further installments.

That said, the film still offers a lot to be enjoyed, including a lovely and utterly likable cast of characters in a delightfully retro setting. As Thomas Wolfe (and Snoopy) famously said, “You can’t go home again.” But it’s still fun to revisit the neighborhood!

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