And where to find them.
You can see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them without having seen any of the Harry Potter series, which means those eight movies should be your next stop if you’re not already familiar with them. There are overlapping characters in mention and on screen, as well as references to the textbook with the same name as this new movie. Also worth seeing as a companion to Fantastic Beasts is the latest Marvel movie, Doctor Strange, as they have a good number of parallels given that they involve magic and New York City, a lead actor who has portrayed Stephen Hawking, and the context of a much larger franchise.
Most of what I’d like to recommend this week, though, is from the previous century. A lot of the picks were made before the first “Harry Potter” was even published. To fit with the full name of this week’s movie, the list also indicates where you can find each recommendation. As usual, there are spoilers for the new release at hand, and I ask if there are additional titles you think are relevant and worth seeing, drop us a comment down below.
Star Theatre (1901)
Although this short documentary was made 25 years ahead of the setting of Fantastic Beasts, it’s from a close enough era to highlight its look at New York City. There are multiple versions of the film, which uses time-lapse photography to document the demolition of the titular Broadway theater, which was across the street from Biograph’s film studio. One version simply presents the month-long leveling of the building, another shows it first in reverse, as if the building is being constructed, followed by the destruction. And another (under the title Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theatre) shows the demolition first, then the reversal second. That’s the version that goes best with Fantastic Beasts, in which buildings are destroyed by creatures then put back together by wizards. Watch the basic version via The Library of Congress, which added the historical work to the National Film Registry:
The Wizard of Oz (1925)
More than a decade before MGM’s iconic 1939 musical version, this silent adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books should have been the big fantasy blockbuster of its time. Apparently it wasn’t received well by either critics or audiences, however, and its studio went bankrupt before it could even be fully distributed. But every Wizard of Oz film (they go back even further) is a fascinating piece in the construction of a story that evolved from the page through the stage and cinema and other media. And its fun to think of America’s world of wizards we see in Fantastic Beasts going to see this and laughing at its depiction of a “wizard” (similarly, it’s fun to imagine them going to see Haxan with its focus on witchcraft through the ages). Look for a young Oliver Hardy in the feature, which you can watch in full via YouTube:
Animal Crackers (1930)
If the scene-stealing platypus-like Niffler in Fantastic Beasts reminded you of another kleptomaniac creature from cinema, chances are you’re thinking of Harpo Marx. The silent member of the fraternal funnymen is similarly always getting into mischief in the Marx Brothers movies, and this specific feature is where you’ll find him most akin to the magical animal that steals jewelry and money and stuffs them in his bottomless pouch. Check out a scene below in which Harpo has lifted a bunch of silverware and hidden it in his famously boundless trench coat. For the rest of the movie, buy the Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.
The Chimp (1932)
Another mischief maker who isn’t human can be found in this short film that gives us our second appearance of Oliver Hardy on this week’s list. Here he’s paired up with his famous partner, Stan Laurel, for a comedy of circus life. While in Fantastic Beasts there are escaped creatures who get into trouble, like the Niffler and the Demiguise, as well as larger, more frightening creatures, such as the Erumpent (and the Obscurus, which is being mistaken for a beast), The Chimp has Laurel and Hardy having to deal with a mischievous gorilla (not a chimp as the title suggests), as well as a terrifying escaped lion. Rent the silly short on Amazon Video.
King Kong (1933)
Hopefully this isn’t a film that has to be recommended to too many of you, but when it comes to fantastic beasts brought overseas that get lose and wreck havoc on the Big Apple, this is certainly the best thing to mention. Actually, Fantastic Beasts is more reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, right down to the scene on ice in Central Park. But why recommend that when the original is still the only essential take on the story of the giant ape kidnapped and put on display in New York? There were thankfully no direct homages to King Kong in the new movie, because that’s overdone, plus the Empire State Building didn’t exist for another five years after its setting. Rent the classic original on Amazon Video.
What’s the Matador? (1942)
More slapstick shenanigans! We move from the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy to the Three Stooges with this pun-titled short set in Mexico with the trio hired to basically be rodeo clowns in bullfighting scenarios (obviously, like the Three Amigos trio decades later, they wind up in real danger, here with actual bulls). The main reason I’m highlighting this one is it has an earlier example of the ol’ suitcase switcheroo bit, though it’s not as big a deal and it’s noticed right away, not for as much comedic value. For something more like the case swap in Fantastic Beasts, you could always check out Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach. But you probably shouldn’t. The Stooges also redid this short in 1959 as Sappy Bull Fighters. Rent both versions via The Three Stooges Collection on Amazon Video.
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
It’s impossible not to see Doctor Who in Fantastic Beasts. Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander acts and looks like one of the Doctors, and his suitcase is bigger on the inside, plus Matt Smith, aka the Eleventh Doctor, was up for the role early on. Also, director David Yates was previously involved in plans for a big screen Doctor Who movie. The real recommendation here is to watch the series, as much as you can, but especially the run that began last decade. However, because this is a list for movie picks, I’ll have to use this first of the Peter Cushing-led features that remade TV storylines as a gateway to everything else. Rent it on Amazon Video.
Pete’s Dragon (1977)
An invisible creature eating apples? That’s Elliott from Disney’s original Pete’s Dragon. And this is a movie worth recognizing now that the remake has arrived and all but replaced it, even while being almost nothing like it. This earlier version also shares with Fantastic Beasts an abusive foster mother, multiple parties trying to catch the mostly benevolent beast thinking it’s more of a terror, and the creature busting through buildings while invisible, too. Rent it on Amazon Video.
The Frighteners (1996)
In the early 2000s, Warner Bros. owned fantasy cinema with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series, and since then each has ventured into prequel territory, but Fantastic Beasts isn’t relative to The Hobbit as much as it’s comparable to Peter Jackson’s first big Hollywood studio movie ahead of his trip to Middle Earth. The Frighteners is an underrated ghost story that also could have been recommended for Doctor Strange, as well. But it’s good I waited because its plot is a lot more akin to Fantastic Beasts, both of them featuring a sort of black-blanket entity of evil killing people while an innocent person is thought responsible. Rent it on Amazon Video (or watch via Starz subscription).
Men in Black (1997)
Speaking of ghosts, when you have a movie where strange somethings are invading New York City and people are trying to catch them, you have to think of Ghostbusters. And more so, Fantastic Beasts reminds me of Ghostbusters II. But it feels even more like this movie, which could still be called “Ghostbusters with aliens” if Evolution hadn’t completely taken on that distinction a few years later. If only you didn’t have to be born a wizard to be a wizard and Dan Fogler’s Kowalski could eventually be recruited into that world for real like Will Smith and then Linda Fiorentino in the first MIB. Sadly, in the end he has to get his memory wiped along with everyone else in the city, just as they are at the end of this movie.
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
One of the greatest actresses alive, Samantha Morton deserved to have a more substantial role here. She seemed like she actually had one of the big parts (maybe some of it wound up on the cutting room floor), but then suddenly out of nowhere she was killed off, her talents mostly wasted. What everyone needs to do to make it up to her is watch this breakout film of hers, where she speaks no dialogue yet says so much with her expressions. It’s a very different performance from Morton, and she earned an Oscar nomination for it. This movie, one of Woody Allen’s best of the last 20 years, is also chosen because its set relatively close to the same time as Fantastic Beasts. Yet there are so many amazing Morton performances you should seek out. You can apparently only see Sweet and Lowdown by buying a full-screen DVD.
Keep Quiet (2016)
We finish out the recommendations with another documentary. J.K. Rowling has admitted that the plot of Fantastic Beasts was influenced by the rise of populism in the world lately, and what she means by that could very well be related to the story in this film about Csanad Szegedi, a right-wing Hungarian politician who helped found the radical Christian-based nationalist party Jobbik and then a few years ago learned he was in fact Jewish despite being a notorious antisemite. That sounds somewhat like the anti-magic kid played by Ezra Miller in Fantastic Beasts who it turns out is actually a wizard suppressing his powers. The doc debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and is still on the fest circuit but officially releases in theaters in February 2017.
BONUS: Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo (1976)
I have to squeeze in this recommendation for a children’s book, and in order to do so I’m including it as a bonus via a YouTube video of its author, Mercer Mayer, quirkily reading the story on camera. It’s about a professor who collects fantastic beasts, and throughout the book we learn where to find many of them, but he can’t seem to locate a Zipperump-A-Zoo. Follow along below or buy the actual book to find out why the creatures are so elusive. You’ll no doubt see immediately why I’ve been thinking about Wormbog and his quest ever since first hearing about the title of the new movie.