Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is based on the third volume in the middle grade book series by J.K. Rowling. After accidentally using magic and blowing up his aunt (like a balloon), Harry runs away and eventually makes his way to Hogwarts. Along the way, he finds out a prisoner has escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban, and that person is aiming to finish the job Voldemort started: to kill Harry.
A lot of negative things have been said about this film since it came out. People didn’t like the weird Caribbean influences scattered within the film, it was too dark, and so on. Bollocks, I say. While you can certainly tell a new director was at the helm, I think too little credit was given to Alfonso Cuarón and his directing on this film.
I enjoyed the Caribbean touches (mostly the talking shrunken heads). I found them a great demonstration of the difference between the wizarding and muggle worlds in England. I found the humor fun and just enough off-kilter to make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban really stand out. I really liked the goofiness of the Knight Bus, with the rolling beds and goofy driver and conductor. I thought it really captured the mix of muggle technology and wizarding weirdness that was required for the bus.
The Dementors were absolutely terrifying. I could see why people were so terrified of them, and why Dumbledore wanted them nowhere near Hogwarts. I give really high marks to the conecptual artists and animators who worked on them. They were perfectly creepy and something from the depths of the worst nightmares.
The only part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban I found a little off was the depiction of the werewolf. Where was the hair? Sure, it’s a magically-cursed being, so it could have just about any wolf-like appearance. However, the weird, hairless, giant chihuahua on steroids just wasn’t all that terrifying. I almost wanted to offer it a coat so it wouldn’t freeze to death. The only actor who didn’t quite hit the mark for me—one who I have always found to be a little less than stellar in everything—was Tom Felton as Malfoy. I’m not sure what happened here, but he always feels like he’s overacting.
The music was had a few Caribbean touches here and there, too, and I found it a refreshing change from John Williams standard soundtrack music. It was like he took everything he normally does for soundtracks and turned it inside-out and on its ear. I found this soundtrack to be a step up in a good direction for Williams. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has one of my favorite of the soundtracks.
I really liked David Thewlis as Lupin. He did a wonderful job with the role, and really brought to life the character from the book. Gary Oldman demonstrated his considerable talent with both his totally insane version of Sirius Black and his more calm and collected version near the end of the film. I also found Michael Gambon’s version of Dumbledore to be more than just a replacement of Richard Harris’ version. He stepped into the role and did a bang-up job of it.
In the end, this was one of my favorite of the Harry Potter films. I thought it took the franchise in a new direction, and it was a good direction. The main three characters continued improving significantly, and really made the film work. Steve Kloves continued his fantastic script work, too. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely a solid film.
Release Date: May 31, 2004 (UK)
MPAA Rating: PG
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (brief smoking and social drinking)
Language: 1 (mostly Ron’s mouth)
Nudity: 0 (unless you count the werewolf)
Violence: 2 (intense & scary scenes (Dementors), werewolf attack, hippogriff attack)