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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third movie in the fantastic Harry Potter series is growing up with the Hogwarts crew; the themes are darker, the peril is more intense, and the images of some magical creatures are grotesque and Halloween-ish. For most of the school year, Harry believes he is marked for death and stalked by an escaped prisoner. He also battles a creature of kids' worst nightmares: the Dementors are black-robed floating beings that suck out happiness and feed on your worst fears, which is why Harry hears the sound of his mother's last scream when he sees them. While this can be tough for young and sensitive viewers, the bright spot is the Boggart lesson in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Boggarts can turn into what a person fears most, but the kids learn to yell "Ridiculous!" and turn it into something to laugh at.
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What's the story?
In HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, when his relatives the Dursleys get to be too much for Harry, the 13-year old rebellious wizard packs up and leaves. Soon he is back at Hogwarts school for his third year. Scary creatures called Dementors, guards at the wizard prison of Azkaban, are lurking about the school grounds in search of the first-ever escaped prisoner, Sirius Black, who betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort and may be on his way to Hogwarts to kill Harry. The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), befriends Harry, while Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) is now teaching the Care of Magical Creatures class, introducing the students to a hippogriff (a sort of flying bird/horse). Meanwhile the fortune-telling Divination teacher, Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson), predicts danger is very near. When the hippogriff injures Harry's adversary, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), it gives ammunition to those who oppose the headmaster, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The hippogriff is sentenced to death. The Azkaban guards, called Dementors, have come to Hogwarts looking for Black, and every time Harry sees them, he faints. They dissolve any happy thoughts of people in their path, and Harry, who has known greater sadness than anyone else in his class, is the most vulnerable. Harry has to find a way to save the hippogriff and protect himself from Black, the Dementors, and even one of his teachers who has a dangerous secret. His friend Hermione has a secret, too -- how is she getting to all her extra classes? The answer is the extra help Harry needs to save lives.
Is it any good?
Harry Potter is 13 in this third movie based on the globally popular book series, and the movie itself seems to be entering adolescence, with its darker themes, darker images, and darker emotions. The first two movies were competently directed by Chris Columbus, with brilliant production design and meticulous attention to detail, making sure that the books' passionate fans were happy -- but playing it safe.
For Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Columbus stayed on as a producer, but there is a new director, Alfonso Cuaron, whose previous work has demonstrated ferocious visual flair (Great Expectations) and great sensitivity in working with and portraying children (A Little Princess) and teens (Y Tu Mama Tambien). He has kept the best of the first Potter films and enriched it with his own splendid vision, meshing perfectly with the tone of the story and the increasing complexity of the themes and characters. The third in the series is darker than the first two, but it possesses the same magical qualities that Potter fans will love.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Dumbledore's statement that people can bring light to even the darkest moments in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. What can you learn from the way Harry and his friends learn to defeat the Boggarts? The Dementors?
Older kids and teens could examine all of the Potter movies to see how different directors and cinematographers can take the same characters and settings and convey a different feeling. How do the colors and texture of the scenes and the movement of the camera help to create the mood and tell the story?
How does this movie compare to the book it was based on? Is it an accurate adaptation? Why do you think the filmmakers made the changes they did?
- In theaters: June 8, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: November 23, 2004
- Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
- Director: Alfonso Cuaron
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: frightening moments, creature violence and mild language
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