If you fall anywhere between the ages of 10 and 30, or you're a parent with kids in that age range, there's a pretty good chance you've journeyed into the world of Harry Potter at one point — be it the books, the movies or new play Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, currently wowing audiences in London's West End. There's also a solid chance you'll be diving eagerly back into the magic this November when J.K. Rowling's new movie Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them hits theaters.
For a franchise which began life as a children's book, the world of Harry Potter has been to some pretty dark places. This is a series whose main villain is a sadistic mass murderer who obsessively stalks a young boy for seven years, a man whose most loyal followers took the label of Death Eaters. Sometimes, a classic lumos spell is needed to navigate the grimly treacherous corridors of Hogwarts.
Looking forward to Fantastic Beasts, then, parents whose kids are super-stoked for another magical adventure may find themselves wondering where the new movie sits on the spectrum: Is it a fun, colorful romp like the first few Potter movies, or is it as dark as Deathly Hollows Parts 1 and 2? A disclaimer: I'm not an employee of Warner Bros. and therefore I haven't seen Beasts yet, but based on what we know from the trailers (see above), I'll try and determine as best I can how old your kids should be to watch Fantastic Beasts.
As mentioned above, the overarching story arc of the Harry Potter movies, even during The Philosopher's Stone, was an inherently dark one. Beasts has two narratives: the first concerns the escape of the titular animals from Newt Scamander's magical suitcase. Think of it as Noah's Arc transplanted to 1920s New York, with an added dose of chaos. That's not a particularly scary or dark storyline — if anything it's family-friendly fun.
In the America of Rowling's world, long before 20th century, "scourers" — muggles with a deep fear and loathing of magic and wizardry — "passed on to their descendants ... the belief that witches and wizards ought to be exterminated wherever they were found." These words are straight from Rowland's writings on Pottermore, so there is no reason to doubt them.
At least one of those descendants, Mary-Lou (Samantha Morton) features in the movie, so expect a degree of tension between members of the magical and non-magical communities. There probably won't be any "extermination," but a fanatical No-Maj investigating and exposing a wizard seems to be on the menu.
That shouldn't rule the movie out for kids, but you may want to be cautious all the same. In the words of Mad-Eye Moody, "constant vigilance!"
Now for the main course: the beasts themselves. CGI creatures in movies can often look less-than-impressive, but these bad boys — some familiar from the grounds of Hogwarts, others totally new — look insanely brilliant. Are they scary, though? Not particularly. New creatures like the Demiguise, a "peaceful, ape-like herbivore with the ability to turn invisible when threatened," are mesmerizing without inducing fright.
The Thunderbird, a close relative of the phoenix, can "sense danger and create storms as it flies", while the Bowtruckle is an "intensely shy twig-like creature" which looks quite similar to Groot, the humanoid tree and undisputed star of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, there will be bigger, angrier creatures inside Newt's case (or rather, outside of it), but on the whole these fantastic beasts appear to be far more charming than scary.
Although it hits theaters in November, Fantastic Beasts hasn't yet been given a rating, but you can be pretty sure it'll be certified PG-13 closer to the time. That means some material may be inappropriate for children younger than 13, but even if there are a few darker undertones in Beasts, it seems like it will have the fun element of Order of the Phoenix, rather than the outright darkness of the final three movies.
Update: As of September 5, Fantastic Beasts has now been given a PG-13 rating as predicted earlier.
The verdict? A little more family-friendly than the closing chapters of the Potter saga, Beasts probably isn't going to push the boundaries of a PG-13 rating — but use your own discretion to decide how suitable it is for a child younger than 10.
Newt Scamander unlocks his creature-filled case on November 18. Be there, witness the magic, and help J.K. Rowling pay off that mortgage.
Accio audience! Are you stoked to dive back into the world of witchcraft and wizardry?