Preview: Music from ‘Fantastic Beasts’ casts an unforgettable spell

Nov. 16, 2016, 11:25 a.m.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” — THE movie we’ve all been waiting for. Set in in the 1920s, it follows the adventures of a magical wizard named Newt Scamander around New York. Newt Scamander is an English magizoologist, specializing in studying magical animals (and catching them). Newt also happens to be the author who wrote the textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which Harry Potter would read at Hogwarts 70 years later. Fortunately, the studios have been kind enough to provide sneak peeks into both the film and the music, the former of which will be released on Nov. 17, the latter one day later. It’s time to mark your calendars, if you haven’t done so already. If anything, the music is already evidence that “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” will be nothing short of an epic adventure.

The composer of the film, James Newton Howard, is no novice. Howard is credited with composing other successful film theme songs for hit movies like “The Hunger Games” series, “Batman Begins,” “The Bourne Legacy” and “King Kong.” This time, he focuses on New York in the ’20s as the background for “Fantastic Beasts.” The ’20s, with the Jazz Age and Prohibition, had a lot going on, both in the No-Maj population  (also known as Muggles — what Americans call non-magical people) and the wizarding world. The music has a lot going on, too. Here’s what we know from the preview:

Ah, the beginning of the new theme song. The classic “Hedwig’s Theme,” or as we all know it, “that Harry Potter song.” It reminds listeners of where all this came from, the origin of the first Harry Potter book or film they ever read or watched. It’s also a reminder that the wizarding world is back.

What of the silence and dark, the low drumbeats that follow soon after? With a sudden menacing tone, there is certainly an aura of danger here, and given the few scenes of Newt in court, we can guess that it might be about his animals among the presence of No-Maj.

The theme song quickly transitions to a mischievous tone, evocative of the fantastic song (and movie!) sequence “Fireworks,” when Fred and George Weasley decide to prank Professor Umbridge with fireworks during exam time. The same bells, pace and even melody lines are used — is Newt up to some mischief in New York? Given the snippets of the movie in which Newt must recover his escaped magical animals, it certainly seems to be the case.

The final notes of the main theme song end with what sounds almost exactly like the music played during “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” in which Dumbledore’s Army (Harry Potter and his friends) succeed at their own little rebellious club and perform Defense Against the Dark Arts spells, namely the Patronus spell. This optimistic tune reminds us of the happy times in all of the Potter flicks. Does this imply a happy ending for “Fantastic Beasts,” too? We hope so!

Howard’s second song, “The Bank/The Niffler,” takes on a mysterious quality, one sometimes even downright eerie with its background chorus and quiet piano. However, while it seems like a tribute to John Williams’ work in more ways than one, it also adopts its own style. With a slightly electronic and classical vibe, “The Bank/The Niffler” is a quirky song that guides you through Diagon Alley, where no wall is completely straight and no angle is completely perpendicular — a topsy-turvy world. It should be, too — the niffler is a strange, overenthusiastic creature that loves glittery objects, including gold. Will this affect the way it disrupts the bank, also full of gold? We’ll see! Initially fast-paced, it has a clumsy melody, too — the kind of cartoonish music you hear at amusement parks for children that makes you wonder: What has Newt done this time?

The clumsy yet lovable character of Newt Scamander and the theme of New York in the 1920s are perfectly encapsulated in the happy yet dramatic tones of the whole musical sequence. This music is enough to hint at Harry Potter, but it welcomes you to an entirely different world in the United States — and promises you the journey of a lifetime.

Welcome back to the wizarding world!


Contact Maimi Higuchi at maimih ‘at’

Maimi Higuchi '20 is a music staff writer for the Stanford Daily. She loves writing, reading, music, and science. A devoted long-time fan of the Harry Potter series, she hopes to one day visit the Wizarding World theme park in Los Angeles.

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