In this installment, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) inflates his wicked aunt like a giant helium-filled balloon and sends her drifting off into the sunset. As you cheer Harry for finally standing up to his despicable family, take note. That act of defiance sets the pace for this darker, scarier, and richer tale. Fleeing the house thats never felt like a home, Harry has an encounter with a demonic dog, takes a wild ride on a mystical triple-decker bus, and discovers murderer Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban prison (poor kid, he's having one heck of a night). Events soon take a lethal turn when Harry is told Sirius Black was responsible for the death of Harrys parents - and hes escaped prison to finish off the family.
Happy to finally arrive at Hogwarts, Harry reunites with buddies Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) as Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, taking over for the late Richard Harris) announces guards from Azkaban, known as Dementors, have been assigned to guard the school. These freaky-looking flying creatures would love to suck the souls out of wandering students so all are warned to stay on the school grounds. With an escaped loony on the loose, Harrys life in danger, and Hermione pulling off some very advanced magic tricks, our heroes have to struggle to stay one step ahead of their adversaries, though they arent sure and neither is the audience exactly who those adversaries are.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban briskly fluctuates between comedy, drama, and horror, while cleverly mixing plotlines bubbling with emotion and fancy special effects. All the CGI work is first-rate, including my personal favorite effect: the creature known as the hippogriff. That bit of CGI magic is particularly convincing. In fact, it was so convincing that when the poor creatures life is in jeopardy, its a real heart-wrenching moment. Throughout the length of the film, the blend of actors with CGI is seamless, yet this Harry Potter never lets the effects overpower the film's human stars.
Under the direction of Y Tu Mama Tambien director Alfonso Cuaron, the three leads blossom as actors. Having a few years to grow between this third film and the first of the series also plays a big part in their emergence as truly talented young actors. Though I enjoyed Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in the first two Potter movies, I was worried about would happen to the three once their Potter days are over. After viewing Prisoner of Azkaban, the question of whether they will be able to transition to other parts has been answered. Showing more depth and range than in the first two Harry Potter movies, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have all come into their own.
As for the rest of the cast, once again the filmmakers have made all the right choices. The regulars return (including Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, and Tom Felton), mixing with new cast members including Gary Oldham as Sirius Black, David Thewlis as the Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Timothy Spall as Peter Pettigrew, and Emma Thompson as the Professor of Divination, Sibyll Trelawney.
This is by far the best of the Harry Potter movies. Harrys growing up and in keeping with that, this third film has more of a coming-of-age feel to it. Theres the hint of a budding romance, and even though these kids arent your normal teens, their efforts to define themselves are relatable - even in our Muggle world. Great effects, spot-on direction, and terrific performances make this a must-see movie.
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" was directed by Alfonso Cuaron and is rated PG for frightening moments, creature violence and mild language.