It’s no secret that the Fantastic Beasts franchise has been cast in the shadow of the Harry Potter films from the beginning. It’s the curse of the prequel trend that Star Wars, X-Men and Lord of the Rings have dealt with before to varied results. Coming off the second film, 2018’s The Crimes of Grindelwald, the Fantastic Beasts series faced a $161 million drop in box office earnings from Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and it's the worst-reviewed film set in the Wizarding World to date.
Even so, there’s still a Lumos spell that could be cast on the franchise going into the third movie out of five planned Fantastic Beasts installments. If the filmmakers could only revisit the third Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, released back in 2004, and take note. Steve Kloves, the screenwriter behind The Prisoner of Azkaban and six other Harry Potter movies, has signed on to co-write Fantastic Beasts 3 with J.K. Rowling, with David Yates directing again. But there’s a lot of valuable lessons to be learned from Azkaban for the Fantastic Beasts movies moving forward. So turn to page 394 and let’s get into it:
How The Prisoner Of Azkaban Changed The Harry Potter Franchise
First off, there’s something very specific that should be mentioned up front about what went on behind the scenes for The Prisoner of Azkaban that contributed greatly to the movie perhaps being the best in the franchise. Alfonso Cuarón directed it after the first two had been helmed by Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire’s Chris Columbus. Cuarón is the filmmaker behind 2018’s Oscar winner Roma, 2013’s Gravity and 2007’s Children of Men. Before all that success, Cuarón had just come off the breakout success that was Y Tu Mamá También, and he was approached to make the third Harry Potter movie.
At the time, the filmmaker wasn’t so sure a big franchise movie was the right fit for him, and he also wasn’t familiar with the books. However, it was The Shape of Water filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro who convinced him to take advantage of the opportunity. Del Toro apparently called him an “arrogant bastard” and told him to go to the bookshop, read the Harry Potter books and call him right away, per an IndieWire interview with Cuarón. This conversation would inform a new and one-of-a-kind Harry Potter movie – one that was filmmaker driven and filled with surprising and risky choices.
The Fantastic Beasts Franchise’s Tone Isn’t Set In Stone
Moving to Fantastic Beasts 3, that movie doesn’t have a two-time Best Director Socar winner at the forefront to really shake things up. David Yates made the first two Fantastic Beasts films along with The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2. The director certainly must have a rhythm he’s used to and that may continue with Fantastic Beasts 3. But in the interest of recreating Prisoner of Azkaban-like results, the franchise will need to think outside the box. Audiences have seen a lot of Wizarding World movies at this point. And just as Star Wars or Marvel movies have recently learned, they'll all start to run together if one of them doesn’t do something different. In The Prisoners of Azkaban, there was an added comedic element to the series, which really played with the weird corners of the world and created some horror elements.
In the original Harry Potter series, the first two films established the characters and world. But if it wasn’t for The Prisoner of Azkaban, the series wouldn’t have moved forward how it needed to into a darker place. As the main characters start to hit their teen years, the third movie matured with them. It moved away from the warm comfort food of Chris Columbus’ movies. It’s a reminder that in order for Fantastic Beasts to remain an interesting franchise, it needs to push the envelope somehow. Otherwise we get into branded “Wizarding World” screensaver territory.
A Central Theme Is Key To Centering A Movie With A Lot Of Turning Gears
Along with The Prisoner of Azkaban growing with its central characters, it also did something specific with its story that cannot be said about every entry in the franchise. The 2004 movie had a lot of storylines to keep track of, yet somehow it was also locked into emoting one central theme that tied them all together coherently. In the typical franchise movie of today, they operate a lot like television shows. They are part of a larger whole, but what these movies deliver on their own matters too.
In The Prisoner of Azkaban, there’s this warmth about the message audiences receive by the end of the movie. There’s clearly more to the story in the upcoming movies that are subtly set up, but it’s made in a way that allows for the specific happenings of the movie to have a payoff. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are moving into their teen years and each figuring out who they want to be as adults. For Harry, he is wrestling with this needing this sense of belonging from the trauma of losing his own parents (and Sirius Black certainly comes into play here). Hermione is growing away from her prim childish ways as she stands up to Draco. Fantastic Beasts 3 could use this kind of centering – especially as it marks a middle point for the series.
Movie Three Is The Perfect Time To Get Things Back On Track
Harry Potter wasn’t in nearly the same position that Fantastic Beasts is as it approaches its third movie – making this more of an uphill battle than Azkaban had. In the case of the original franchise, it was based on immensely popular books that audiences would continue to show up for over years to come. Plus, its first two installments were already working. But to underline previous points, The Prisoner of Azkaban propelled the series forward in a necessary way that kept things interesting and played with the franchise more than ever before. The same opportunity exists for Fantastic Beasts 3.
The first movie worked for the most part, but its ideas felt muddled in The Crimes of Grindelwald. If the third film established a bolder tone, underlined a central theme and set itself apart from the rest of the franchise like The Prisoner of Azkaban did, it could be good news for Wizarding World fans when it comes out in November 2021.
What do you think? What would you like to see in Fantastic Beasts 3? Sound off in the comments below.