From the Cover of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore by Warner Brothers:
“Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) knows the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to lead an intrepid team of wizards, witches and one brave Muggle baker on a dangerous mission, where they encounter old and new beasts and clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers. But with the stakes so high, how long can Dumbledore remain on the sidelines?
Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the 3rd installment of the new Wizarding World Franchise, set in the same universe as Harry Potter. This installment follows the continued adventures of Newt Scamander and co. as they work with Dumbledore to defeat Grindelwald. As with the previous films of this series, the overarching plot is fairly dark though it is interspersed with a fair amount of humor and lighthearted magical creature antics. There is a lot of violence and intense scenes including graphic animal cruelty early in the movie, as well as an undercurrent of political tensions. Because of this, this is one where it’s important to keep in mind the PG-13 rating and possibly pre-screen before taking young or more sensitive children to see. That said, if they viewed the other Fantastic Beasts films and the later Harry Potter installments without issue this is about in line with the darker content of those movies.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
One of the main subplots running through the previous Fantastic Beasts movies was that of Credence and his desire to find out who he was and where he came from. Unfortunately, much of this storyline is brushed aside as a second thought in this movie which is too bad. We do learn that Credence is a Dumbledore, though he is not Albus’s brother but rather his nephew. Despite the storyline being rushed, foster and adoptive youth may relate strongly to Credence’s story. There’s an intense battle sequence where we see Credence confront Albus, filled with hurt and rage at the idea that he intentionally abandoned him. We also see Credence sending messages in the mirror expressing how alone he feels and his desire to ‘come home’. All of these different experiences may echo the complicated feelings some children have in relation to their biological families.
Knowing Who to Trust In the previous film Credence, having fled from his abusive adoptive family, searches for any hint of his birth family and an answer to the question of who he is. His quest leads him to several dead ends with him growing ever lonelier and more hopeless of ever getting the answers he wants. These feelings leave him ripe for manipulation and he ends up joining Grindelwald at the promise of those answers. He believes what Grindelwald tells him without question because he knows just what to say to manipulate Credence’s feelings and vulnerability. Like Credence, children who have experienced trauma are often very vulnerable to exploitation and may be taken advantage of both by peers and adults who have ulterior motives. It’s important to have conversations about knowing who to trust and giving youth a safe way to practice those skills.
Reconnecting with Birth Family We learn in this film that Credence is the son of Albus Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth. The movie does not spend a lot of time on this or Credence’s feelings about finding his birth family after so many years but in the end, he does meet Aberforth and ends up ‘going home’ with him. Every child’s story around their birth family is different but talking about Credence’s experiences here may offer up the opportunity to talk about their own experiences around the relationship they have (or hope to have one day) with their birth family. Some youth may not be ready to talk about this and prefer to keep the conversation about Credence. But it’s worth being prepared for some big feelings that might come up as Credence learns about and meets his birth father for the first time.
Meeting Others Where They Are When Newt goes to rescue his brother in prison, he encounters some manticores (a crab-like magical creature). What follows is an amusing scene where he proceeds to mimic their movements and behavior which he later explains is a soothing tactic to keep them from attacking him. While it’s mostly just a humorous moment in the movie it can be a great analogy of meeting others where they are. Often with behavioral challenges or mental health issues trying to force someone with a background of trauma to act (or not act) a certain way is a Sisyphean task and it just doesn’t work. If instead you, like Newt, join their reality instead of trying to force them into yours it can work wonders. After watching this scene talk about how Newt showed compassion and understanding in his interactions with these unusual creatures, rather than reacting with fear or frustration, and talk about how you can best be like Newt in your role as caregiver.
Racism towards Muggles Grindelwald’s views are that Wizards are superior to Muggles and he repeatedly talks about Muggles in derogatory terms. He uses statements like ‘our kind’ and ‘us vs. them’ and calls Muggles ‘beasts’ and ‘animals’. For children who have experienced racism these comments may be upsetting to hear.
Animal Cruelty/Death Early in the film we see Newt caring for a mother Qilin and her calf. Enemies come in and attack, ultimately killing the mother and kidnapping the baby in an intense and violent chase scene. Later we see Grindelwald slit the baby’s neck, killing it. Eventually he reanimates it in a disturbing scene in a hot tub.
Manipulative relationship between Grindelwald and Credence Credence joined up with Grindelwald in the previous film as he lured him in with the promise of revealing information about his birth family. While Credence was technically 18 at that time, and even older now, the way Grindelwald interacts with him gives off a very predatory and manipulative vibe. Grindelwald is in a position of power and Credence is much younger than him and vulnerable due to his traumatic upbringing. We don’t see a ton of interaction between the two of them but what we do see is uncomfortable and problematic. Especially considering this builds on an earlier relationship credence had with Percival Graves in the first film (who it turned out was Grindelwald in disguise) and at that time Credence *was* a child.
Excessive Violence/Peril There is a lot of violence throughout the film. Characters fight frequently with wands and there are explosions and property damage. There are several chase scenes including one where Grindelwald’s followers are trying to hurt Newt and kidnap a baby creature. There’s a scene where Newt is under the water with a baby creature and appears to be drowning. Theseus is knocked out and kidnapped. When Newt and Theseus are in the prison there are a few gruesome attacks by creatures where we see other prisoners get eaten and their bones spit up. There’s also an ongoing sense of dread and looming peril throughout the film that doesn’t give a lot of time to rest between adrenaline rushes for children who have trouble regulating their emotions. There are also multiple scenes of restless crowds and political rioters.
Character Torture Towards the end of the movie Grindelwald casts Crucio (the torture curse) on Jacob and we see him writhing on the ground in pain for several moments. Jacob is a beloved character and a muggle who is unable to properly defend himself against wizards so the scene is upsetting to watch for a number of reasons.
Do you have a favorite magical creature? What do you like about them? Caregiver Note: This movie has a lot of intense and dark content so this is just a lighter question to get the conversation started. However, talking about what you each like about different creatures can be a great way to learn more about one another.
Jacob is given a wand by Albus- how do you think this makes him feel? Caregiver Note: For the past two films Jacob has become more and more swept up in the Wizarding World as he joins New and his friends on various adventures. A wand is the quintessential token all Wizards carry so by being given one of his own, even though he can’t use it, is a sign that he is accepted as part of the group. This can be a great lead in to talking about group social dynamics, fitting in and making friends. Just like Jacob is the only Muggle in a group of Wizards, children who are in foster care or adopted may feel like an outsider among their peers in more ‘traditional’ families.
As part of Dumbledore’s plan Bunty has to take Newt’s case with her and he is separated from it. How do you think this makes him feel? Do you have anything that is special to you like his case is to him? Caregiver Note: Newt’s case is incredibly important to him- it houses all of his creatures which are basically his family. Giving that up, even giving it over to someone that he likes and trusts, is very difficult for him and you can see that the prolonged separation causes him stress. His case is also an embodiment of who he is and losing it likely feels like losing part of his purpose and identity. This discussion can be two-fold depending on which direction it takes. Sometimes children might have a special object they are attached to that reminds them of someone they’re separated from. Or they may relate to the concept that Newt has to be away form his loved ones (his creatures) temporarily, just like they might be in foster care with the goal of reunification. The creatures are taken by Bunty as part of a plan to keep them safe until Newt can look after them again, just like children might be in care until it’s safe for them to go back to their birth families.
Dumbledore offers some advice that states ‘Do what is right, not what is easy.’ What do you think this means? Caregiver Note: This is a throwback to a very similar line from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But aside from being a fun Easter egg for fans, it’s also a great moment for some thought-provoking conversation. Sometimes doing the ‘right’ thing is very difficult and sometimes there is no clear answer about what the right choice might be. There’s no real right or wrong answer here, just an opportunity to have some meaningful discussion and learn more about your child’s views.
ACTIVITY: Mimic the Magical Creature (aka Follow the Leader) Caregiver Note: When Newt encounters the Manticore (crustacean-like magical creatures) in the prison he mimics their movements and behavior to avoid being seen as a threat. For a fun bonding activity take turns being the ‘magical creature’ or leader and the other has to mimic whatever the ‘creature’ is doing. The sillier the movement the better! This can be a fun way to demonstrate that you’re willing to meet them where they are, even when you may not always understand what they’re doing or why.
Why is Credence so Angry with Albus? What might have been a better way to express his feelings? Caregiver Note: Credence mistakenly believes that Albus Dumbledore is his brother and that he knew this and intentionally abandoned Credence and left him to be raised in an abusive home. These are lies that Grindelwald has told him deliberately trying to stoke the anger inside of him. Credence’s rage culminates in a battle where he fights and tries to kill Albus while Albus continues to try to explain the truth to him. Given what he knows and his traumatic upbringing it is understandable that Credence has a lot of pain and big feelings that he hasn’t had any outlet for that has built up over many years. This can be an opportunity to talk about some productive ways to channel and work through feelings so that they don’t build up and explode later. These outlets will vary by child but might include exercise, artistic endeavors, therapy, mindfulness techniques, etc.
Why do you think so many people support Grindelwald? How can we tell who is a trustworthy person and who isn’t? Caregiver Note: Grindelwald is the antagonist of the series and holds very problematic views of muggles and commits atrocious crimes in order to further his political agenda. Despite all this, however, much of the Wizarding World is willing to turn a blind eye and believes the lies he tells them. Even some of our heroes like Queenie end up following him. Grindelwald is very charismatic and manipulative, playing on the vulnerabilities of others in order to gain their trust and creating illusions such as the Qilin choosing him as a leader. Sometimes children with backgrounds of trauma can be eager for emotional connections and to fill unmet needs which leaves them open to manipulation and exploitation. They tend to also have trouble knowing who to trust, as adults they trusted in the past may have harmed them. So, it’s important to have frequent conversations about how to know if someone can be trusted or even discuss checking with a safe adult such as a caregiver, counselor, teacher, etc. if they aren’t sure.
In the end, we see Jacob forgive Queenie for joining Grindelwald. Why do you think he did that? Was it the right thing to do? Caregiver Note: Forgiveness is often a very complicated topic, especially for children who have experienced trauma in relationships. There isn’t really any right or wrong answer here as every circumstance and relationship is different. However, having a conversation about it may offer some insight into your child’s view on the subject and perhaps even be an opening for them to talk about some of their own damaged relationships and whether or not they feel like forgiveness is an option in their own situations.
Credence finally meets Aberforth, his biological father at the end of the film after years of searching. Do you think they will be able to build a relationship? Caregiver Note: Again, there’s no right or wrong answer to this one. The movie doesn’t go into a lot of detail on how things go between Aberforth and Credence when they finally meet and so it’s open to speculation. How youth answer this question may be colored by their own experiences with their birth families and whether or not they have or want a relationship with them. The important thing to keep in mind during these conversations is to leave room for all feelings that come up- there’s no right or wrong way to feel about it and whatever emotions they have are valid.
At the very end of the film Queenie and Jacob are preparing to get married and Newt appears nervous. Several characters tease him about being nervous to give a speech after he just saved the world. Why do you think this is? Caregiver Note: From what we’ve seen of Newt so far, he seems to run from one headlong adventure into another. Even before he got roped into helping save the world and fight evil wizards alongside Dumbledore, he was traveling the world rescuing magical creatures. All of these are adrenaline filled activities. Newt is used to fighting battles where often you just have to act before thinking. When he is faced with quieter, more intimate moments with time to think about what’s coming, he seems to struggle more. This can be a great analogy for the way children who have lived through prolonged trauma react. Their bodies and minds are so used to being in fight or flight mode, struggling to survive that when that trauma is no longer there, they can struggle to know how to fit in or act in a ‘normal’ situation, much in the way Newt is more nervous to give a speech than to fight in a battle.
About the Author: Jenn Ehlers
Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.