Cast: Emma Watson, Danielle Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman
Director: Joe Pearlman
What a better way to start off the new year than with a reunion of one of the most prolific film franchises of all time. There are very few movies that have touched society the way that the Harry Potter ones have, so if any franchise is worthy of reunion on HBO this has to be at the top of the list. Now anyone can just get former actors together, throw them some softball questions, and have a few laughs while fans reminisce about a different time in their life. So how does this movie stack up to those standards? Through a combination of sensible direction, natural personal interactions, and a plethora of stories revealed for the first time, Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is an absolute delight to returning Potter fans as well as those vaguely familiar with the franchise.
The film follows the major actors from all eight movies as they reflect on their time with the series. While it is centered around Radcliffe as he played the titular character and serves as the “host” for the majority of segments, it goes beyond the general scope of the movies and focuses on some of the deeper subjects and behind-the-camera moments that didn’t make the final cut. Even though the movie does spend a significant portion reviewing the movies in chronological order, there is a wise decision towards the middle to focus more on what these movies represent and less on the stories behind them. Themes like growing up, love, and the battle between good and evil are prevalent as early as the first movie, and by jumping around and recognizing the relevance the each movie has on the overall story arc shows that this movie won’t spend 102 minutes just focusing on the bare essence that you can discover just by reading the books. Many fans may have a favorite movie or director, by including as many people as possible from the different eras of the franchise makes sure that everyone who likes one part in particular gets something out of this special. For me personally, I associate the Harry Potter movies more with David Yates since he directed the most movies in the franchise and has continued to expand the universe through his Fantastic Beasts movies, so seeing the talented directors of the early movies on screen like Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron was certainly a treat. This movie will absolutely resonate with middle and younger millennial audiences who were the target audience of the original movies and will transport them back to a world that has been out of their grasp for quite some time now. Outside of the general assessment of the movie, I appreciated the dive that the movie took about the impact that this franchise had on the overall film industry. Speaking as someone who lived through that era, every single one of these movies was a major hit and to use the same child actors for the lead roles was practically unheard of. These movies revolutionized the way that studios would build universes in the future and with the exception of the MCU, I don’t think anything has come close to capturing the momentum that the Harry Potter movies did in their heyday. In addition, they started the trend of splitting their final movie into two parts which became a staple in the young adult genre for various franchises in the mid 2010s. This special showcases all of those areas of influence and has clips of fans expressing their love for the series, so it makes no mistake of the value of this franchise on society. The final thing that makes this movie fantastic is the level of joy expressed by the returning cast and crew as they are interviewed. You can tell just how much these movies meant to them whether they’re in the titular role or just one movie, and the smiles on their faces will be on yours as well when you listen to the stories of the Harry Potter movies in the past. Humor can sometimes be hard to communicate if it’s an inside joke between two people, but in this movie it feels like the audience is a part of the joke and I found myself laughing at quite a few of these stories. I’m confident that most audiences regardless of their Harry Potter expertise will be laughing along as well.
Overall, Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts ignites a spark in audiences that I don’t think they have felt for quite some time. These are movies that have shaped the childhoods of millions around the world and this is a stunning gathering of the architects that made this franchise as dominant as it was for a decade and beyond. What started off as a simple story about an orphan who lived in a cupboard soon became a phenomenon that captured the hearts of audiences everywhere. Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint), and Hermione (Watson) will be recognized as one of the greatest trios of all time and there are eight movies of moments to help recognize their trials and tribulations. Everyone involved in this movie deserves credit for bringing everyone together one more time for a long-deserved tribute to one of the fantasy genre’s crowning achievements.
Final Thoughts: See It