January 12, 2017
(++++) THE FANTASTICS
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Character Guide. By Michael Kogge. Scholastic. $14.99.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Magical Movie Handbook. By Michael Kogge. Scholastic. $7.99.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Beasts—Cinematic Guide. By Felicity Baker. Scholastic. $8.99.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Beasts Poster Book. Scholastic. $7.99.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Coloring and Creativity Book. Scholastic. $8.99.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Fashion Sketchbook. Scholastic. $15.99.
Rarely are the inevitable movie tie-in books more valuable or interesting than souvenirs of a short-term infatuation with a particular film. Some of the books that take off from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are therefore exceptional – if not in themselves, then because they are genuinely interesting and could lure people to the film instead of simply being ways for those who already know the movie to remember it. The latest entry into the world of Harry Potter, the first of a planned five-movie sequence, got only mixed reviews, its heavy emphasis on computer-generated imagery and plot exegesis making it less enthralling to many than the coming-of-age story involving Harry, Ron and Hermione, which takes place 70 years later and an ocean away from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. However, the new film’s handsome staging and intriguing use of a muggle (called “no-maj” in this movie) as a major character give it a different angle on magic from that of the original eight-film sequence, while the use of the director of the last four Harry Potter films – David Yates – provides some continuity of pacing and visualization. In any case, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them offers plenty of reasons to revisit J.K. Rowling’s original books and spinoffs from them, and a number of these half-dozen movie tie-ins proffer more magic and involvement than is usual in film-derived, film-dependent books.
The Character Guide and Magical Movie Handbook are actually both character-focused, giving brief biographies of the movie’s central character, “magizoologist” Newt Scamander, and the various characters, beasts and objects with which he interacts in the film: witch sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein, no-maj Jacob Kowalski, the anti-witch Second Salemers, the powerful Shaw family, members of the U.S magic-ruling organization known as MACUSA, and of course the beasts. Character Guide spends most of its time on people and their relationships with each other and the society in which they live, a reimagined 1920s New York City. Magical Movie Handbook gives less space to characters and more to the beasts, organizations and locations of the movie – and even has a section on wands and spells, the differentiation of wands’ appearance being an intriguing (if scarcely central) element in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
For an even stronger focus on the beasts of the film there is The Beasts—Cinematic Guide, which gives at least a few pages to every one of the 14 beasts seen in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, even those that make little more than a cameo appearance (although, of course, they could always play a greater role in films yet to come). At 64 pages, this is a very short hardcover book, but one that does an unusually good job of explaining what the beasts are supposed to be and do. It offers fewer scenes from the film than the Character Guide and Magical Movie Handbook, but the ones it does show are well-chosen. And then, for viewers really intrigued by the movie’s CGI creations, The Beasts Poster Book is a visual treat, offering 24 pull-out pages showing the creatures (and some of the human characters) in full, resplendent color and large 8½-by-11-inch size.
The tie-ins to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them also include, not surprisingly, some activity books; these seem aimed at younger viewers and really do function mostly as souvenirs of the film. The (+++) Coloring and Creativity Book, which includes stickers as well as black-and-white pages to color, offers a chance to reimagine the beasts of the movie as well as some of the characters and even some objects, such as a MACUSA identification card and the Magical Exposure Threat Level Clock. And a close look at the to-be-colored pages occasionally reveals a certain level of subtle humor, as on a page showing some of the items that Newt uses to track beasts and care for them: the five Ministry of Magic classification levels for beasts range from the serious XXXXX, “impossible to train or domesticate,” to the basic X, described with the single word “boring.” This book will make sense only to readers who have seen the film already, which is why it is best thought of as a souvenir rather than an involving work in its own right. And much the same is true – in fact, to an even greater degree – when it comes to Fashion Sketchbook. This book is largely based on the notion that Queenie, the younger of the sister witches with whom Newt interacts, is a 1920s version of what would now be called a fashionista: she is preoccupied with clothing, hair, and her overall “look.” In truth, the period costumes of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are a high point of the film, whatever its structural lacks may be, and for those interested in fashions and fashion design, Fashion Sketchbook will be a lot of fun. It shows how various characters (not only Queenie) and objects look in the movie, then gives readers a chance to “interact” with the film’s scenario. For instance, one of Newt’s beasts, a Niffler, is attracted to shiny objects, so this book offers four drawings of hands and arms that can be used to create ring and bracelet designs. Queenie wears her hair in short curls, a popular 1920s style, and the book provides three drawings of heads on which to create and color hairstyles. There is even a page showing seven different wand designs, with an opposite blank page for creating a wand. The (+++) Fashion Sketchbook is of limited appeal, but will be quite enjoyable for those intrigued by this aspect of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Interestingly, though, several other books among these tie-ins have the potential to reach out beyond people who have already seen the film and perhaps get them interested in viewing it – and for those who have seen and enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the tie-ins will make it easier to wait for the next movie in the series while remembering the high points of this one.