J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter books have become one of the most massively popular series of all time, inspiring a worldwide devoted fanbase. The books themselves were adapted into an eight-film series that wrapped up in 2011, but the Harry Potter franchise and fandom has lived on. Rowling herself helped craft a continuation of the characters in the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the author additionally turned to screenwriting to pen the upcoming film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Rather than dive deeper into the lives of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, or Hermione Granger, though, Fantastic Beasts is set long before they were born, taking place in 1920s New York City and following magizoologist Newt Scamander. Although Fantastic Beasts is another entry in the wizarding world established in Harry Potter, it’s largely removed from the characters fans know best. As such, many may be wondering if the movie could hold up on its own without prior Harry Potter knowledge.
During a press conference for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them attended by Screen Rant, producer David Heyman tackled the topic, saying the movie “can stand on its own” — though there is an “additional experience” for fans aware of the Harry Potter mythology. He said:
What I think is so wonderful about this film is — and what Jo has written — is it can stand on its own. You don’t have to have read a single Harry Potter book or seen a single Harry Potter film to enjoy it. And yet, if you have, there’s a wonderful additional experience of this story.
Considering the storyline of Fantastic Beasts, which follows Newt Scamander through New York City as he searches for a host of magical creatures that have escaped from his care, it certainly doesn’t seem to need that knowledge of Harry Potter in order to be enjoyable. Since Harry Potter takes place decades later, it doesn’t influence the time period of Fantastic Beasts. That said, Heyman did indicate that further along in the five-film Fantastic Beasts series, it will dive deeper into the mythology of the wizarding world as established in Harry Potter:
I’ve read the second script and it is beyond exciting. I think the only thing I can say is the connective tissue that you have seen in this film is just the beginning and as the story unfolds those connective tissue, to the Potter [books and movies], to what we know and have seen and have read in seven books and eight films, will become more explicit. … As you continue, that ability to watch without having seen or read a Potter — you will be able to enjoy it, but I think you will enjoy them in a completely different way than with the experience of having read and seen the Potter films and books.
Although Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2 isn’t slated for release until 2018, some tidbits about the film have already been confirmed. For instance, we know it will return to the home continent of Harry Potter, Europe; a younger version of Harry’s mentor Albus Dumbledore will appear; and the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) will be a major antagonist. Given these connecting aspects, it’s clear that Fantastic Beasts may be a fresh story, but it’s still re-entry point to an established universe.
Of course, in terms of those fans who grew up reading Harry Potter, going to see the movies in theaters, and are eagerly anticipating a new blockbuster series in the magical franchise, Fantastic Beasts has exceptionally high expectations. Rowling herself addressed these expectations at the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them press conference, offering assurance that the movie is recognizably a wizarding world film:
It’s true that Harry is not in the movie, because he’s not born yet, but this is very much of the world and there are characters we’ll learn more about through Fantastic Beasts. … As far as reassurance goes, I think we’ve done the very best job we can. I certainly have told a story I really wanted to tell, and I can’t think of any better reason to tell a story, and I hope that people love it.
So, it seems that while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them may be a continuation of sorts of the Harry Potter franchise, it won’t necessarily alienate new viewers. Likewise, the Newt Scamander-led adventure offers long-time fans of the wizarding world insight into an entirely different time period in the universe’s history. With Rowling assuring fans she and everyone involved in Fantastic Beasts set out to tell the best possible story, now it simply remains to be seen if that story is as beloved by fans and casual audiences as the tale of Harry Potter.