Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
|Action Adventure, Kids Family, Fantasy
|2 hr. 19 min.
|Year of Release:
June 4, 2004 (wide)
|Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis
|Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company
“Something wicked this way comes.”
Christian parents everywhere have been up in arms over the Harry Potter series and for good reason. Deuteronomy 18:10-14 is the banner under which all reasoning behind the obvious nervous reaction to these books and subsequent movies wave. We, as God fearing, loving parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and all, have been running fitfully in front of J. K. Rowling, and whatever she may have to dish out next, protecting our children. With just cause, we are appalled by her relentless and eerily accurate depictions of witchcraft, spells and dark arts. She is declaring to our youngsters that this is merely harmless fantasy, when in stark reality witchcraft is a sin and no one will go blameless before the Lord who practices it. It is only just and right that we have the righteous urge to shield our children from practicing such acts and are worried they will become involved in things that God strictly forbids.
Yet, I make this series on film a must see for parents and any adult who has charge over the spiritual well being of children they love and wish to instruct in God’s laws about occultic practices and reliance on astrology instead of God for decision making! Do not let there be any misunderstandings between what the world says is good and evil, and what God declares is good and evil!
In this third installment Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has been growing up, and with his physical growth he has also found his voice. Standing on the brink of adult thoughts and feelings, he musters up the courage to denounce the horrible treatment of his adoptive family and runs away. He is then picked up and whisked away on the enchanted Knight Bus “for stranded witches and wizards” and dropped off at The Leaky Cauldron pub where Harry is informed he must stay in order to be safe.
This beginning is not much different than many fairy tales we all grew up with. All kids on the brink of their teen years long to be free and be the one in power instead of their parents or teachers. It is how we use this fledgling power to be in control that makes all the difference.
And so, Harry returns to Hogwarts for his third year (like being a sophomore in high school) and is reunited with his friends Ron (a sweet and slightly goofy Rupert Grint), and Hermione (ever brave, ever studious Emma Watson), along with the familiar faculty. Immediately, the excitement begins as new creatures and a brand new adventure ensues.
I like the characters for what they are. They depict loyalty, friendship and sacrifice. It is the story in which these characters dwell that has stirred up such turmoil. The “Prisoner of Azkaban” is darker and more grown up. All the characters in this continuing saga must grow up eventually, as we all do. This story brings those involved, along with Harry and the other well known characters, to the different paths they must choose, up to the next level on the road of life.
Hagrid (gentle giant Robbie Coltrane) has been given the new position of Care of Magical Creatures teacher. Professor Snape (still a wonderful, menacing Alan Rickman), although a seeming foe, is always there, and seems to be defending Harry, yet not willing to admit he’s a good guy. I must say here, that Richard Harris will be missed as Professor Dumbeldore (a great actor, Richard Harris will be fondly remembered), although Michael Gambon gives the part his best shot, he is not as understanding, strong and wise as the late Mr. Harris.
There’s a new professor of divination (i.e., fortune-telling), Professor Trelawny (a very quirky “steal-the-show” performance by Emma Thompson). Lastly, a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (a bittersweet David Thewlis) befriends Harry, and they share a very believable, encouraging relationship, holding each other up in perilous times. Professor Lupin was a best friend of Harry’s mom and dad and warms Harry’s heart with remembrances of them. Families can use these poignant scenes to discuss when and just why self-reliance is good when life turns ugly—then support the need for Christians to turn to GOD when the chips are down.
Along the way we learn that a renegade wizard, Sirius Black (not a rich enough character for Gary Oldman to play, he needed to be more developed) has escaped from Azkaban prison and is after Harry! Yikes! The legend has it that Black was the person who turned against Harry’s parents and was not just their saboteur, but also their killer. Now he is searching for Harry, and all believe it is to do him in as well!
Harry and his friends go through many mysterious plot twists and turns. Some of the time-warp tricks were wonderful for the older audience, but may puzzle younger viewers. The plot whisks us along through to the end and may leave most of us wondering how we got to the end so quickly. The introduction of Sirius Black (near the end) is almost a throw away and a bit of a let down as a true villain. I won’t get into too much detail for fear of ruining the ending for the viewer.
There is some drinking and some bad language. The character of Ron uses a pet expression, “bloody h*ll” three times. The “D” word is said in the phrase, “shut the d*mn—door!” That’s all the swearing used outright, but there are references parents should be tuned to, such as when Malfoy uses the derogatory racial slur “mudblood” and when Harry’s Aunt uses “b*tch.”
Azkaban adds to it’s list of creatures the inhuman evil Dementors who suck the life or “soul” essence from their subjects. There are also Boggarts—creatures that take on the form of their victims worst fears and turn on them (the only way to disway them is to “think” them into the silliest form you can. One girl turned her cobra into a jack-in-the-box, etc. There are several scenes with very scary werewolves and a very threatening black dog with menacing green eyes who pulls poor Ron into a dark cave under a living, killer willow tree that attempts to pound Harry and friends into the ground. There are two scenes with bloodied characters. Another scene, although viewed from afar, shows a black-hooded executioner beheading a chained creature with a huge axe.
Among others, there is a terrifying scene where a character turns into a werewolf (I was scared to watch it myself, and I can sit through “scary” with the best of 'em). So DO NOT let small children watch this AT ALL! It would be best to rent the first two and let children between 10 and 13 see them feeling safe at home with you, stopping along the story to discuss and answer questions. My advice is to use scripture and sound Biblical answers as you go. My bottom line is: all three of these films are NOT FOR CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 10!
My main concern is how much more foreboding and murky this installment is. The first two (under director Chris Columbus' colorful designs and meticulous attention to detail) are at the least almost innocent compared with this one directed by Alfonso Cuaron. If you had let your fourth grader see the first two, he is probably older now and more able to take the third story’s darker images and more adult elements.
J.K. Rowling said herself that “…a child who escapes from the confines of the adult world and goes somewhere where he has power” is very appealing. This theme has been repeatedly a favorite storyline for the young throughout children’s literature. Note “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Rescuers,” “Snow White,” “Mary Poppins,” and so forth. All of these stories include some form of magic and thrilling adventures, not unlike Harry Potter.
It is not so much of what the story is about, but what it teaches young people about how to deal with good and evil. I believe that what Christian parents fear the most is the confusing messages that the Potter series brings to impressionable youth. Couple this with the other mixed messages confronting them in today’s world, and it leaves parents with yet another war to fight in an already overwhelming struggle to not only teach their kids what’s right, but shield them from what’s evil.
I suggest that anyone worried about the dangers of what our kids are being exposed to in film today (especially Harry Potter books and movies) view Caryl Matrisciana’s hour-long documentary video “Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged” for an honest look at children’s modern day fantasy reading.
J.K. Rowling is wonderful at taking us all on a ride through a thrilling fantasy world. The film series takes it a step further and makes it all visually rich and real. It is unfortunate, therefore, that she has chosen mythology and dark occultic practices as Harry’s “savior” instead of a better spiritual goodness. This is the inherent difference between the characters of Harry Potter and say Dorothy Gale. Harry has learned to rely upon the magic of wizardry as his ultimate good—which is actually void of goodness. Dorothy ultimately learns that the “Wizard of Oz” is a fake, and his so called power is fictitious and of no reliable good.
This is the difference between Harry and all these other fairy tale films and children’s fantasy literature of the past generation: we inherently recognize the good vs. evil elements, and they should be clearly and definitely portrayed. Evil is therefore positively evil, and Good is positively good. These elements should be uncompromisingly clear to our children.
Discuss King Saul and the price he paid for his disobedience to the Lord’s command not to seek council from a witch, but to seek council always from God. King Nebuchadnezzar sought council from his court magicians as did Pharaoh when confronted by Moses. Explain how these stories display what a dangerous mix evil and Satan really are. Ultimately King Saul, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and yes, Harry Potter are breaking God’s very first Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me!”
I asked some movie goers coming out of the theater NOT the question, “How’d you like the movie?,” but “What did Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban say to your heart?” Here are some replies:
“There is a spirit of terrible evil all around us. You can’t overcome it through magic. Magic is just fictitious stuff, but evil is not fictitious—it’s real! So, the use of wizardry in place of GOD is not stable. You will loose without God.”
“Harry is having a hard time facing the world, so he uses magic in place of GOD. It is a vacant hope and you will lose without JESUS.”
“I saw the use of new-age mysticisms with all that stuff about not being able to face the world without good thoughts. Use your best memories to get around problems. instead of turning to GOD for real help.”
They all liked the movie, but most had a problem with this element of the story. At the end, Harry was still “lost” with no concrete answers. I found that very sad.
We are all on a journey. Our course is set early on. It is important that the course for young kids start out with how to walk with God. It is not enough to know just the “basics”—like the effort put forth in schools today with “credibility counts.” Although a noble pursuit, it lacks spiritual training, and that is where we come in at home and church. Kids must be shown that it is not merely being a “good person” (as Harry and his friends and teachers are presented to be) that will get you your reward, but that we all must go beyond that to gain our true “Kingdom reward.”
Kids must know we all have gifts given from God, not spells and incantations conjured up from potions and “happy thoughts.” We have gifts that are placed in us from God that can never be removed—like integrity, righteousness and forgiveness.
Share and teach God’s strict warning about the price a person pays for seeking council from a medium or a spiritist. Let your children know that God loves them and has not appointed such practices for them. Show them the fullness and strength they can have by walking with God and the hollow pitfalls experienced by those who use divinations.
Use Harry Potter as a tool. By making a fuss and keeping your kids from seeing or reading these stories you may only make these stories more enticing and your kids may steal away to read or watch because of your insistence not to. Instead be with them, equip them to understand what it is they are seeing. Ultimately make it perfectly clear that what they are reading and seeing is not real and is instead an adventure for a young man in a strictly fantasy world. Compare Harry Potter with other children’s fantasy stories and fairy tales. By lumping Harry Potter with the rest, he will disappear into the maze of other fantasy stories and will blend with the palate of childhood fantasy like… magic…
We’re each a work in progress. As human beings, we are designed to lead a life walking close with God. It is in our nature to seek a transformation especially as a youth. This transformation is not found in magic, but is truly found in transforming ourselves into the likeness of Christ Jesus.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None