Vinny’s journey through the Wizarding World films continues with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

One of the most unique aspects of the Harry Potter film franchise is that when they went into production, the overall arc had yet to be published. Additionally, the series would encompass seven novels, far beyond that of even J.R.R Tolkein’s Middle- Earth works. As I have now watched all eight of the films, I can’t help but break them into two distinct eras.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. With director David Yates taking over with the fifth film, he brought his own sensibility to the Wizarding World and there is a consistent presentation in the series’ latter entries.

But, we’re not there yet. As the film version of The Sorcerer’s Stone hit theaters, the books were only up to The Goblet of Fire. It was these novels that set the stage for the early films and the tone therein. There is a consistency in the first four movies that it lost as Yates takes the reigns. What I like most about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is how much like the first two it is.

And how it isn’t.

Same World, New Lense

When Chris Columbus decided to leave his role of director behind for a less intense producer one, it must have caused a bit of anxiety amongst cast and crew. Though Columbus’ entries aren’t perfect, they is an admirable consistency to them and they both capture the wonder of Hogwarts and its denizens. This “wonder” is the driving force behind the franchise and without the early films capturing it so expertly, the franchise could have had a misstep before getting to the primary antagonist. Choosing Alfonso Cuarón might not have had relieved these concerns. Coming off of the controversial Y Tu Mamá También, Cuarón’s A Little Princess days seemed far in the past. Though not the obvious choice, it would be this unique eye that makes the third film so special.

Cuarón, with maybe just a little help from Guillermo Del Toro, does something quite unique in this entry. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban manages to feel like a true sequel to Columbus’ films, while upping the game in nearly every aspect. By this I mean that, unlike every entry following, the third film maintains the fantastic aspects and evolves its characters simultaneously. It is here that the young cast truly begin to shine and while this certainly has to do with their age, there’s no way direction didn’t play a big role in that. Additionally,  Cuarón and crew nail the cinematography. Yes, it still looks like the world that the first two films established, but the camera moves through the scenes bringing a new sense of energy.

In short, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban caps the “original” films in grand fashion. It serves as the pinnacle of an informal trilogy, one that encompasses a time in the tale where Voldemort has yet to rise, and the action still centers around Harry’s school days. Cuarón, who hadn’t even read the books when he entered contention for the project, may have “gotten it” better than anyone else.