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June 8, 2004 > Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

by Jeremy Inman

The Harry Potter franchise continues to roar ever forward. It's likely that since the release of the first feature film, the fan base remains as strong or stronger in sheer, undeniable numbers (and dollar signs. I'm surprised there's no cartoon yet) than at everyone's favorite bowl-cut young wizard's conception. The films have continued to deliver high-quality storytelling, worthy of praise from both readers of the books and moviegoers, young and old. Plot and character development in each film of the series has continued to rival the time and care put into each novel, worthy of more than a children's movie. While the series continues to grow progressively darker as the main characters (and the readers) grow older, the stories never fail to convey the chief element of the franchise - magic is fun.

This time around, young Harry, sadly mistreated and uncared for at home, decides to run away. He breaks one of the most important laws of wizardry by practicing magic outside the safety of the Hogwarts School for young wizards. To his surprise, Harry is hardly punished. Instead, he is immediately enrolled for his next year at Hogwarts then hears the news that the evil wizard Sirius Black has escaped from the Azkaban Prison, a feat that no wizard has previously been able to accomplish. Of greater concern, he learns that Black, indirectly responsible for the death of his parents, is coming to Hogwarts to kill Harry as well. The typical, yet exciting formula followed in previous films, ensues. Harry and friends use newly-acquired powers to uncover clues to the mystery of Harry's past. Well-read and astute moviegoers will likely unfold the mystery before Harry does, or at least part of it.

The Prison of Azkaban relies heavily on the mystery aspect of the story. No easily identifiable villain emerges in this film. Prior Harry Potter movies have included a giant spider or an evil sorcerer - everyone knew who to boo. This time around, it isn't as clear. Prisoner spends time developing the characters, specifically Harry, and provides a bit more insight into his motivations and psyche than in the last two films. There is also plenty of fun viewing the digital magic of Harry and friends' powers and various creatures to life. And, if that is not enough, the film is brilliantly and cleverly shot, providing grand, sweeping views of magical surroundings.

Rated PG, Prisoner's tone is noticeably darker than the previous Potter films. While older viewers will feel comfortable with this film, the franchise should be careful with the PG rating; I heard at least one youngster whisper, "I'm scared," during a preview screening.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is sure to please both fans of the book and of the last two films, and is well-worth the price of a ticket.

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