(Warning: This post contains SPOILERS from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them)
After seven best-selling books (1997-2007), eight top-grossing movies (2001-2011), a few The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks, travelling exhibitions, and countless merchandise, the gripping story of The Boy Who Lived and his endless struggles with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (a.k.a evil wizard Voldemort, whom we all can call out loud by now), is without doubt one of the today's biggest pop culture phenomenons.
As we approached 2017, the 20th anniversary of when the boy wizard entered our world, what else can fans expect from the #HarryPotteruniverse? Well, if creator #JKRowling has her way - and she usually does - a whole lot (Potter)more, that's what.
This year in July, the British author expanded the Harry Potter universe "19 years later" with the play-cum-book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, where we find an adult Harry Potter who has to deal with a son who is not exactly impressed by his famous dad. In November, fans were then transported to some 60 years before The Boy with the Lightning Scar was born via the wizard-filled but Potter-less fantasy film, #FantasticBeasts and Where To Find Them, featuring the adventures of magizoologist and #Hogwarts alum Newt Scamander in 1926 New York.
Did these two properties add to the magic of Harry Potter's world or were they something we could do without?
Let's check them out:
'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'
Have to confess, when I first heard of the premise for #CursedChild, I wasn't sure how I or audiences will take to a middle-aged Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. For starters, I'm among those who never did take to the pairings of Harry + Ginny and Ron + Hermione. Plus the fact that the focus will be more on the offsprings, primarily the Potters' youngest son Albus Severus and Scorpious Hyperion Malfoy, son of their arch enemy from the past, Draco.
The play, written by English playwright/screenwriter Jack Thorne and based on an original story by Rowling, Thorne and John Tiffany, premiered in London's West End at the Palace Theatre and earned rave reviews. It is now one of the most sought-after tickets in the world, having sold out till December 2017. Unlike a darn lucky friend who managed to get tickets and flew all the way from Singapore to London just to see it, I only have the book to chew on (as of now). After reading it though, I can understand why the play is so well-received (granted, having a great cast and production also helps).
(SPOILERS ALERT) As the eighth book of the series, and with J.K. Rowling's highly imaginative and story-telling style intact, Cursed Child works as it brings back familiar characters and places, wizardly magic and incidents that fans loved in the books and films, and immersed them into new intriguing plotlines. I love the bits where the play ties back to the original books such as the flashback in which Harry meets Hagrid for the first time, which is almost word for word as in the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. Also, a very major plotline is based on one of the series' most popular characters, Cedric Diggory - who also has the dubious honour of being the first notable character to die in the book series, namely in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire - and how, years later, his dad has never quite forgiven Harry Potter for indirectly causing his son's death.
As for the main characters, Harry and Ginny's grown-up characters are decently written (although Harry does come across as a sad sack of a dad at times). Hermione, who is now the Minister of Magic, is intelligent and disciplined as what we would expect her to be, but sorry, I still can't buy the relationship between her and Ron. Especially when at one point when Albus and Scorpius manipulated the past with a Time-Turner, the story seems to insinuate that since Hermione didn't fall in love with Ron, she is likely to end end becoming a mean-spirited Hogwarts professor, or in the words of Albus Potter, "a psychopath". Seriously? As if! Surely Hermione, with all her smarts and beauty, can succeed in life with or without Ron! Thank goodness, that was just a "time lapse".
As for Albus Potter, it is understandable that it can be hard to live up to a famous father but he came across as a rather spoilt brat; in contrast, Scorpius Malfoy, despite his family background, was more likeable. But then, the senior Potter was annoying at his son's age too (especially in book five). So, one does accept that "kids will be kids".
Verdict: Cursed Child probably works better as a play but even as a script book, it is still gripping and entertaining enough to draw the reader to the end. As a new Harry Potter story written for the stage, it brings new audiences to the Harry Potter universe, especially those who may not be fans of either the books or films, while giving something new for ardent fans to savor. It is said that Rowling has no plans for any sequels but hey, a "prequel" on the trio's pre-babies university days could be fascinating! In the meantime, word has it that the play will make it to Broadway by 2018, so here's hoping there will be an international tour thereafter.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Can a film about the wizarding world be interesting without the famous Harry Potter? If it's part of J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World, then probably yes. From becoming a playwright for the first time with Cursed Child, Rowling made her debut as a screenwriter with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, inspired by the Hogwarts textbook written by her character Newt Scamander.
As Rowling confirmed, Fantastic Beasts is neither a prequel or a sequel to the Harry Potter story, but "an expansion of the wizarding world". It has a new hero in the form of Newt Scamander (played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything), a quirky magizoologist on a global excursion to research and rescue magical creatures. He rrives in 1926 New York unaware that something dark and sinister is brewing beneath the Big Apple, threatening to expose the wizarding community to a hard-lined faction of No-Mags (American for Muggles) who are hell-bent to eliminate them.
As a film, it just took two hours to decide whether or not Fantastic Beasts is a good extension to J.K. Rowling's wizarding world. For starters, we are brought to a whole new world - the wizarding world in America. The US equivalents were fascinating to say the least - Magical Congress of the USA (MACUSA) vs Ministry of Magic; No-Majs vs Muggles; and Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry vs Hogwarts, etc. Coupled with affable characters to root for, splendid art direction (projecting an amazing NYC in the 1920's) and amazing visual effects, and you got a more-than-great popcorn movie!
Making the film truly enjoyable are the nuanced performances from the likes of Redmayne as Newt, the hilarious Dan Fogler as Jacob, adorable Alison Sudol as Queenie, Colin Farrell as Percival Graves and Ezra Miller as creepy Credence. But what really stole the show was the incredible range of magical creatures brought to life by the special effects team, which were accidentally let loose into the city from Scamander's magic suitcase by Jacob. These include the shiny-object-loving Niffler; the emotional leafy Bowtruckle that follows Scamander around; the larger-than-life Erumpent (the beast that ended up in Central Park); and the gigantic but elegant Thunderbird.
Verdict: Though it is not linked to Harry Potter in anyway, Fantastic Beasts has many references, or Easter eggs, to the Harry Potter series to remind fans that we are actually in the same magical world. Examples: The fact that Scamander is from Hogwarts, who was expelled due to an unfortunate accident with a magical creature; that Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore is a big admirer of his talents; that the woman he loves, Leta Lestrange, may or may not be related to the evil Bellatrix Lestrange; just to name but a few.
So, yes, Fantastic Beasts is a welcome addition to J.K. Rowling's wizarding world. And with four sequels already on the cards with the first due out in 2018, not that anyone can say "nay" to Ms Rowling right now! Although I'm not exactly excited in seeing Johnny Depp as wayward wizard Gellert Grindelwald - or Katherine Waterston returning as Tina for that matter (thought she was the weakest link in the movie) - it will be fun to see a new dimension of a wizarding world that does not include an intense Harry Potter.
So there you have it, it's "YAY" to both 2016 expansions to the Harry Potter universe. Looking forward to many more.
Watch the official final trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them:
Do you like the Fantastic Beasts and The Cursed Child expansions to the Harry Potter Universe?
(Sources: pottermore.com, time.com, express.co.uk, imdb.com)