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Video Reviews

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Kids, Mystery/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Cast
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter; Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley; Emma Watson as Hermione Granger; Gary Oldman as Sirius Black; Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore; Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape; Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall; Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid; Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon; Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia; Pam Ferris as Aunt Marge; Harry Melling as Dudley
Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Great Expectations, A Little Princess)
Distributor
Warner Bros.
Reviewer
Steven Isaac with Rhonda Handlon
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

It's year three at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for 13-year-old buddies Harry, Hermione and Ron, as well as baddies Draco Malfoy and Co.

It's year three at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for 13-year-old buddies Harry, Hermione and Ron, as well as baddies Draco Malfoy and Co. Of course getting to school is always half the fun for Harry. Last year his friends had to rescue him with a flying car after his mean Muggle family barricaded him in his room. This year he's had it with everyone. So he inflates a nasty relative with helium (she floats out of the house and up out of sight) and runs away from home, rejoining his classmates when the semester begins.

Journeying to Hogwarts, Harry learns that a deranged criminal named Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban with the sole intention of finding and killing him. That means Azkaban's evil wraithlike dementors (guards) will be patrolling school grounds. And that means Harry's not going to have a very good year, because every time Harry meets a dementor, he faints.

Harry is determined to conquer his fear and solve the mystery of why Sirius Black has it in for him. So he huddles up with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin, and begins to work through his weakness. Then he teams up with Hermione and Ron to track down the man he believes betrayed his murdered parents.

Positive Elements

Harry battles his fear of the dementors by confronting it head on. Each step of progress gives him a little more courage for the next encounter. He's aided by a teacher who guides the students through the process of picturing their worst fears, then replacing them with humorous thoughts and images.

Mr. Weasley risks his job at the Ministry of Magic by warning Harry that he’s in grave danger. Hermione puts her life on the line for Harry with a whistle that distracts the werewolf from attacking him. Harry in turn risks his life when he attempts to rescue his godfather from the dementors and is attacked himself. Although aspects of their behavior are more negative than positive, Harry, Hermione and Ron risk their student status at Hogwarts to rescue a condemned animal and help an innocent man escape injustice. A magical creature puts itself in danger to protect Harry and Hermione.

Harry sticks up for his deceased mom and dad when they are unfairly maligned. (His method is improper; his heart is right.) Later, Harry is reassured that "the ones who love us never really leave us," and that when he misses his parents, he can still treasure them in his heart. Harry’s strongest family memory proves to be the most powerful weapon he has against evil.

[Spoiler Warning] When Harry is near death during an encounter with the dementors he thinks he sees the spirit of his father coming to his aid. In reality it is Harry helping himself via time travel. Families who do choose to watch can use this poignant scene to discuss when self-reliance is good, when it turns ugly, and why Christians need to turn to God when the chips are down.

Spiritual Content

Returning fans will already be familiar with, and have perhaps already grappled with the pros and cons of the magical elements of Harry Potter’s world. Because of that, the eye-popping enchantments of the first two films seem almost commonplace now. The invisible cloak, castle-roaming ghosts and talking portraits seem as normal as afternoon tea.

The movie opens with Harry under his bedcovers practicing incantations. After his visiting aunt provokes him into casting a “bloating-floating” spell on her, he runs away and is picked up by an enchanted “Knight Bus for the stranded witch or wizard” that’s controlled by a disembodied, dreadlocked head. Onboard, he sees The Daily Prophet, a wizard paper with real “live-action” photos. Back at school, Harry and friends celebrate with magic candy that has them doing silly things like making animal sounds and expelling steam from their ears. One of the new textbooks is the jaw-snapping Monster Book of Monsters. Ron’s mischievous older twin brothers give Harry a “marauder’s map” of Hogwarts that shows everyone’s location and activities. It also reveals that a villain thought dead isn't and unveils a secret passageway that’s key to solving a mystery. In Defense Against the Dark Arts class, Professor Lupin introduces his students to boggarts, creatures that take on the form of what their victims fear most. Hagrid shows off his winged steed Buckbeak, an animal that is half horse, half bird of prey.

There are newcomers in this edition that take viewers into a darker realm. First and foremost are the dementors, evil spirit creatures wearing hooded robes of tattered, curling black streams, capable of sucking everything positive out of a person and leaving them devoid of hope and joy. In one instance a man's soul is depicted as a light source being vacuumed from his body by the dementors. (It returns to his body when Harry casts a counterspell.) They even extract all warmth from the elements, frosting windows and freezing lakes. Dumbledore warns students that “these vicious creatures won’t distinguish between the hunted and those who stand in their way.” Beware the dreaded soul kiss of spiritual death, which they eagerly plant on “good” and “bad” wizards alike.

Harry and his fellow students have their closest brush yet with the (real, nonmechanical) supernatural world in their new Divination class. There the quirky, new-agish Professor Trelawney tells them that “in this room you shall discover if you possess The Sight.” One way they learn to look into the future is by reading palms and tea leaves. (The professor freaks out when she sees the dredges in Harry’s cup, saying he has “The Grim,” one of the darkest signs—the omen of death.) Another is by studying crystal balls. Additionally, Professor Trelawney “channels” a message directed to Harry from the spirit world. In a guttural voice she eerily predicts, “Innocent blood shall be spilt. Servant and master shall be reunited once more.”

There are two "animagi" in Prisoner of Azkaban, one a villain that disguises himself as Ron’s rat friend Scabbers, the other Sirius Black, who transforms into a giant dog. There is also a werewolf, different from the animagi because he cannot control his shape-shifting. Hermione uses a “time-changer” talisman, although the practice is strictly forbidden by wizard rules. (Dumbledore gives a nod-and-a-wink to its use.) A gospel-sounding school choir sings lines from Shakespeare's witches incantation in Macbeth ("Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn, and caldron bubble").

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

Fighting beasties are a Harry Potter staple, but it's more personal acts of anger and retaliation that take center stage here. Hopping mad over derogatory remarks his aunt makes about his parents, Harry uses his magic to smash the brandy glass in her hand. Then he puffs her up like a huge balloon. As she expands, the buttons pop off her dress and ricochet off cousin Dudley's face. Then the gigantic woman bounces out of the house and up into the sky, Willy Wonka-style. Harry follows up by grabbing his wand and thrusting it threateningly at his uncle.

Equally peeved at Malfoy, Hermione jabs her wand into his throat. When her friends urge her to lay off ("He's not worth it!") she pulls the wand back and punches him in the face. His head slams into a large boulder before he crumples to the ground. (The scene is repeated from a different angle during the time travel segment.) Earlier, when Malfoy and his comrades are bullying Hermione and Ron, Harry (under the cover of his invisibility cloak) throws snowballs at them, drags them around by the feet and pulls one boy's pants down.

There are multiple battles that involve humans and magically formed animals. Mild hand-to-hand combat is interwoven with "wand-fire" and debilitating spells. Harry blasts a teacher across a room to get him out of the way and pins a man to the floor.

The whomping willow kills a couple of birds unlucky enough to fly within the reach of its flailing branches. It also ensnares Harry and Hermione and tosses them about. Buckbeak slashes Malfoy. A Quidditch player is struck by lightning. Tormented by dementors, Harry falls off his broom while flying high above the clouds. Hermione tosses a stone that hits Harry in the head.

Crude or Profane Language

Ron is the biggest offender, continuing to blurt out his pet expression, "Bloody h---." "God" is used as an interjection, as is "crikey" and "d--n." "B--ch" is used to refer to a female dog, but its implication bears a double meaning. Malfoy again uses the derogatory, "racial" slur "mudblood."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Harry's uncle and aunts drink brandy, and share it with the dog. Dumbledore asks Hagrid for "tea or brandy."

Other Negative Elements

Harry continues to disregard the instructions of the adult authority figures in his life. It's easy to understand why he lashes out against (and runs away from) his aunt and uncle after being on the receiving end of emotional—and sometimes physical—abuse his whole life. But Harry also defies his school teachers and authority figures in the magical world. A more subtle ill here is the way these caring adults are portrayed. His relatives can't stand him and subsequently treat him like dirt. Kids will instinctively understand that that's a bad scenario. The greater danger is portraying Harry's well-meaning—cool—teachers as ultra-tolerant. Throughout the film they wink at his misdeeds and look the other way when he defies them. He loves them for it, and everything works out marvelously in the end.

Maybe Harry's so prone to disobedience because he's so often placed in situations in which can't trust his elders. He is left to second-guess everything and everyone. This may make some attentive young minds innately suspicious of authority figures. A good thing when it comes to strangers on the street; a terrible thing when it comes to teachers, pastors and parents.

Conclusion

Any time a new director takes over a high profile movie franchise, there's bound to be at least a few changes. And A Little Princess director Alfonso Cuarón does insert some of his own personal style. But not so much that your average 10-year-old will ever notice. So essentially, the Harry Potter universe makes the transition without a scratch. Whether families will have the same experience is another matter.

Harry Potter 3 is cinematic fun. It's entertaining. And it proffers positive themes: Harry faces down his fear. Love is shown in selflessness and self-sacrifice. Despite intense feelings of anger and a mad desire for revenge, Harry is more interested in discovering the truth about what happened to his parents than easy retribution against the man he believes betrayed them. But more prominent here than in Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets is Harry's defiance and his rule-breaking. "Harry is a very angry young man," says star Daniel Radcliffe. "He's not afraid to talk back to [his aunt and uncle], nor to confront his own identity, although I think as with any teenager his anger is balanced with a kind of social awkwardness." Confronted about turning his aunt into a human beach ball, he's unrepentant, retorting, "She deserved what she got!" Hermione is changing, too. Emma Watson says of her character, "Hermione decides she's not going to take it anymore, not from Malfoy or anyone else. She ends up punching Malfoy and storming out of a class. She's more 'girl power,' more outrageous, and of course more fun to play."

At the same time, the already blurry line between "good magic" and "bad magic" (an entirely worldly idea to begin with) gets all but scuffed into insignificance. A perfect illustration comes in the form of the dementors. They are evil, soulless creatures who'd sooner snuff out your life than look at you. But in the wizarding world J.K. Rowling created, they are used as guardians of goodness. They are essentially public servants—police officers—assigned to keep Azkaban secure and the "really bad" prisoners inside away from the good people outside. Imagine if in our world terrorist masterminds were given the responsibility of running our prison system! When you're battling darkness with darkness—as The Prisoner of Azkaban does—even the winners end up wondering where all the light went.

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