Quick Answer: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set nearly 70 years prior to the events of the original Harry Potter stories, telling a completely original story in a different part of the magical world.
For millions, the release of the final Harry Potter film in 2011 signaled the end of something truly monumental. A generation of young people had grown up beside Harry, Ron and Hermione and watched as an intricate and beautiful world of magic got darker, richer, and culminated in the realization of one of literature's finest coming-of-age stories. With both the books and films finished, fans across the globe wondered if and when they would be treated to more Potter material.
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander
In November 2016, that continuation comes to the big screen in the form of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fantastic Beasts is a spin-off to the established Potter universe, the first installment in a proposed trilogy. It follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an eccentric, introverted wizard, employee at the Ministry of Magic, and future author of the textbook "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," a book Potter fans will remember as a textbook used by Hogwarts students throughout the original stories. The film is written by Potter author J.K. Rowling in her screenwriting debut, is directed by David Yates, the man responsible for the final four Harry Potter films, and is produced by David Heyman, the producer of every Harry Potter picture. With this returning team, an aesthetic consistency and familiarity should be felt throughout the picture.
Fantastic Beasts takes place about 65 years prior to the events of the Harry Potter stories, and around 54 years prior to the birth of Harry Potter. As such, it will take place in an entirely separate universe than the original tales with a unique set of characters and storylines. Rowling has said even though the film is set in Potter’s past, Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel to Harry Potter. In other words, what happens in Fantastic Beasts isn’t going to directly set up the events that we know from the Potter stories, but will tell a new story about new people earlier in the same magical world. The biggest change could be in the film’s location, as the story is largely set in New York. The American magical world is something the original Potter stories didn’t touch upon. Here we’ll see the MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the USA, America’s version of the Ministry of Magic, which is carefully concealed within the Woolworth building.
However, even as a fresh story, there will almost assuredly be minor Easter eggs littered throughout that reference points we know from the future of the world. In the film’s two-minute teaser we already hear mention of Albus Dumbledore and are treated to the sounds of an amped-up Hedwig’s Theme.
The format of Fantastic Beasts allows Rowling and company to keep the Potter universe alive without detracting from the Harry-based stories that everyone has grown to love. Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight, and Ron Perlman are among the film's other stars.