Film score review: Welcome to the diverse world of ‘Fantastic Beasts’

Dec. 8, 2016, 9:18 p.m.

The Stanford Daily got a further look into the soundtrack of the new Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts.” No worries though — this music review will refrain from revealing any major spoilers!

Alohomora into the mysterious world of magical New York in the 1920s. We trail along with Newt Scamander, a British wizard played by Eddie Redmayne, whose whirlwind of a journey starts off when his magical animals one day escape into the alleyways of New York.

Now that we know more about the film itself after its release and behind the scenes footage, the song “There are Witches Among Us/the Bank/the Niffler” makes a lot more sense to Harry Potter fans — and any avid moviegoer. This Niffler, a rodent-like creature from the film, is so far proving to be one of the most popular characters and beasts among the Wizarding fan community for its cute, small, platypus-like figure. This song is essentially a character portrayal of the Niffler, depicting it not through paintings or through 3D animation but through a lovely symphony of sounds. The Niffler’s anthem begins with an eerie chorus of female voices, merged with harps and classic violin, but never overloads itself on the intimidating aspect. Maintaining a positive atmosphere, it soon drops into a mischievous tone and sounds exactly like a Niffler’s footsteps, accompanied by soft trumpets and bassoons. In this sequence, the Niffler tiptoes into jewelry shops and banks, hoping to go unnoticed by Newt, a hushed suspense perfectly captured by the extremely light violin tune. Of course, Newt, ever the vigilant one, soon catches sight of the Niffler attempting to store glittery objects in its pouch. The ensuing struggle of Newt vs. the little Niffler is played for pure laughs, musically reflected by the building up of drums and strings, quickly countered by fun chimes. A perfect blend of a comedic chase and dramatic action.

“The Erumpent” is based on a magical African creature that looks much like a rhinoceros, and the eponymous creature fits right into its character song. The Erumpent theme — gravely different from the Niffler tune — sounds as though it came straight out of the “Jungle Book” with its myriad spinning notes and rests. “The Erumpent” combines a happier, lighter atmosphere with an occasional dramatic style through its hint of trombones and a steady, fast-paced drum beat. There is bound to be quick action in capturing all the escaped beasts, but this brief piece nevertheless manages to pin down its animal.

What about the characters themselves? Do they get their own pieces as well? The composer, James Newton Howard, has in fact written pieces for J.K. Rowling’s detailed characters.

The “Kowalski Rag” kicks off with a melody line very similar to “Night at the Museum”’s famous theme song. Indeed, Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj (humans who cannot wield magic; non-wizards/non-witches), and Ben Stiller’s character from “Night at the Museum” are both innocent people suddenly dragged into an unknown world. These similarities in characters are reflected in the music itself. Trumpets and light cymbals mark a steady beat in “Kowalski Rag,” before the piece immediately quiets and transforms into a jazzy, blues-like tune reminiscent of 1920s New York. Kowalski is a man from the ’20s, and this era will be extremely important for “Fantastic Beasts” viewers to grasp the concept of the divide between magical people and no-Majs.

This music review cannot go without mentioning the “Blind Pig!”, the name of the speakeasy Newt and the others visit, where a female goblin sings the beautiful lyrics written by J.K. Rowling. Coupled with the artist Emmi’s sultry voice and J.K. Rowling’s references to beasts, it’s a relaxing, magical song. Note that, although beasts such as Hippogriffs are also mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” during the Yule Ball, a rock band sings this in a highly upbeat, intense song — a clear indication times and tastes have changed. “Blind Pig” has a very jazzy feel, and the whole scene in the speakeasy evokes a strong “Great Gatsby” vibe. (Fun fact — the music from the two films were produced by the same studio.)

“A Man and a Beast” is undoubtedly a complex music piece. The piece starts with a light-hearted tune played by a lone clarinet and flute to a full string orchestra and chorus. It soon transitions to a dramatic, serious music piece with a full string orchestra coupled with a chorus. But something sounds familiar — in fact, it’s the same melody line, mixed in with a hint of the main theme song! This main line is played repeatedly, but with different instruments, it sounds like an entirely new piece each time. From a happy, bumbling tune to a musical atmosphere that sounds like it belongs in an action movie with clanging bells and orchestra, “A Man and a Beast” is a diverse piece that is caught in between the feel of “The Philosopher’s Stone” and “Deathly Hallows.” It concludes by diving straight into a jazzy tune and modification of the exact same melody using a piano, saxophone and maracas, again reminiscent of 20s NYC. Incorporating the main theme of “Fantastic Beasts,” “A Man and His Beasts” is a song dedicated to Newt himself. Perhaps it portrays his multi-faceted character, between a happy adventurer and a heroic figure, hence the positive tune and the action hero sound — but with the same melody line over and over again. Perhaps with the main melody, he’s essentially the same person and upholds the same values, and yet he has a whole range of sides (and instruments!) we’re about to experience and look into.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is one wild journey and does a wonderful job of setting the story up in New York before transitioning into the sequel. We can’t wait to see where the story takes us next.

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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