The children, they grow so fast. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the tale in which J. K. Rowling's young orphan wizard becomes a teenager, and the first thing that strikes you about the new movie is how much more mature its protagonists have become, at least on the outside; the boys' faces are leaner, longer, a bit more rugged, definitely free of baby fat, while it seems Hermione Granger (played by Emma Watson), the one girl of any import, is about to blossom into an adolescent beauty.
This physical maturity is matched by a darker thematic and artistic sensibility. Unlike the first two films, which were directed in a typically clunky, treacly fashion by Chris Columbus, The Prisoner of Azkaban is the work of Alfonso Cuarón, a Mexican whose eclectic portfolio covers everything from the cute-as-a-button kids' flick A Little Princess to the sexually provocative Y Tu Mama Tambien. Cuarón brings darker colors and bolder, more imaginative visuals to this entry in the series, and for once, it can be said that a Harry Potter film has been made with something resembling a genuine artistic vision.
And just in the nick of time, too. The Prisoner of Azkaban is perhaps the most emotionally complex of the Harry Potter stories to date; it is here that Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) first encounters the Dementors, fearsome creatures which can suck the joy out of anyone who crosses their path, and it is here that he wrestles with his darkest, most murderous impulses. As the story begins, Harry is staying with his mean, muggle (i.e. non-magical) relatives, Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), and they are visited by the even meaner Aunt Marge (Pam Ferris), whose insulting remarks about Harry's parents ...1