Viewers of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were gifted with the appearance of Newt’s unruly Niffler getting his swag on in a New York bank. Although we also met these little guys in the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this was the moment we officially fell in love with Nifflers – and here’s why you should, too.
A Niffler looks like a cross between a mole and a platypus, and, despite this not seeming like an advantageous route for evolution to take a creature, the Niffler works it to his advantage. Even though he has tiny paws, he can climb as if the whole world was made of ladders, and snuffles along the ground after gold like a pig rooting out truffles. But as well as being curiously practical, the Niffler was arguably the only beast in Newt’s menagerie that was actually cute.
If the Niffler hadn’t broken out of Newt’s case at the bank and gone around stealing money and buckles from shoes – and trying to fit the entire contents of the vault into his stomach pouch (and almost succeeding) – then Newt would never have had to follow him. Newt then wouldn’t have bumped into Jacob Kowalski, culminating in accidentally switching cases with him. Tina Goldstein would never have arrested Newt, and none of the other creatures would have escaped, either. When you think about it, wasn’t the Niffler the real hero of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?
While we’re talking about escaped creatures, the Niffler was the only one of the beasts in Newt’s magical suitcase that actively tried to escape. The others ran amok once they were let loose (and heaven knows the animals at Central Park Zoo may never be the same again), but the Niffler knew there was amok out there to be run in the first place, and leapt at the first chance he got.
Once he was out, he resisted all efforts to be recaptured, because to the Niffler New York wasn’t the Big Apple; it was a city-sized heap of shiny things ripe for the pilfering. He was brave and inquisitive, and wouldn’t let anything stop him, short of a mildly flustered Magizoologist and an aspiring baker with a strong Brooklyn accent. The Niffler showed a sense of adventure much greater than his small size suggested, and one that truly embodied the spirit of the wizarding world we all love.
Many magical creatures have a higher intelligence than run-of-the-mill non-magical ones, and in fact many of Newt’s menagerie understood his speech and appeared to have conversations with him. Frank the Thunderbird understood Newt perfectly, and even agreed to help memory-wipe an entire city, and Newt had full conversations with Pickett. Newt spoke directly to his Niffler too, and the Niffler in turn seemed to clearly understand what was being said to him.
The difference was that the Niffler not only knew what he was doing, but knew what he was doing was technically bad behaviour in the human world (even though it’s a natural impulse to him). This is another reason he continually evaded Newt’s attempts to catch him again. At one point he posed like a model in a shop window display because he knew Newt was looking for him. The Niffler had the same kind of roguish personality that people like in cats. He knocked the crockery off the sideboard of Newt’s life. And he did it on purpose.
Big movie presences like Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx or even Mr Bean prove that you don’t need words to make the funny. The Niffler completely proved that: he couldn’t talk, but who needs words? His little face and his little poses are all he needed to get the audience to fall in love with him: making him the perfect slapstick superstar.
Look, nobody’s perfect. So the Nifflers can be borderline kleptomaniacs sometimes, but aside from that, Newt’s Niffler was charismatic and actually pretty surprisingly loyal. Audiences love redemption stories, and Mr Niffler was so darn adorable we could never stay mad at him for too long. With the ability to both be a petty criminal and a loveable standout character, we imagine a bright, superstar future for the Niffler. Watch out, Hollywood. And protect your valuables.