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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

‘Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts’ is a tear-jerking nod to the impact of the wildly successful franchise

After all this time, cast members reunite to discuss the magic that went into making the wizarding world a reality

By CLARA FISCHER — arts@theaggie.org

Harry Potter, the boy who lived. 

Most people know this famous line as a reference to the British smash-hit series of novels and movies. J.K. Rowling’s best selling sequence of fantasy books about an enchanted world of wizards and witches quickly went from juvenile literary phenomenon to one of the defining cultural moments of the 2000s and beyond.

 Now, 20 years after the release of the first film adaptation (Chris Columbus’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), HBO Max has released a special reunion featuring many of the colorful cast members who played a pivotal role in the film franchise.

 Right from the first few moments, viewers already feel transported back to the magical world of Hogwarts, with the theme music trickling in the background as some of the most beloved faces of the franchise pop up on-screen.

Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the movies, is the first to make an appearance, closely followed by the likes of Robbie Coltrane and Matthew Lewis (who portrayed Rubeus Hagrid and Neville Longbottom, respectively). Fans see them wandering various locations in modern-day England, then stumbling upon formal invitations cordially inviting them to “return to Hogwarts” in a playful allusion to the Hogwarts acceptance letters every young witch and wizard receives in the series.

The special takes place on the sets of the classic movies, with many notable characters — such as Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and many more — returning to reminisce on their days roaming the magical halls through a combination of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. 

It’s nice to see that there is no love lost between any of the former cast members. The excitement they feel to be reunited is palpable, even through a screen, and seeing the emotions run high as they relive fond memories is exciting, even for those who aren’t die-hard Potterheads

The special dissects the films in chronological order — a logical choice and one that makes witnessing the development of the Golden Trio from inexperienced (but adorable) child actors into seasoned professionals all the more sentimental. Daniel Radcliffe, who portrays the series’ namesake, is the key link between everyone and thus takes part in the majority of the interviews.

Through Radcliffe’s anecdotal exchanges with fellow actors, producers and directors, viewers are treated to a more in-depth look at the immense effort that went into creating the magical world from start to finish. Every film requires effort that vastly goes unseen by the public, but the “Harry Potter” franchise is in a world of its own when it comes to the effort taken to cultivate the on-set culture, fan engagement and even set design.

When discussing the earlier installments of the series, it is emphasized how vital it was to ensure that the casting was accurate to the book. This was no mean feat — the characters were children and needed appropriately aged but still wickedly talented actors to match. However, given the films’ immense success, it’s safe to say that the casting directors were successful (particularly with Rupert Grint, who plays the role of Ron Weasley and was noted by multiple of his peers as being especially akin with his character).

The entire special is tinged with nostalgia — seeing the characters you grew up with revisiting the magical world as adults is sentimental and sets the tone for the whole hour and 45 minutes. However, it’s refreshing to see “Return to Hogwarts” embrace more serious issues amid the fun and excitement.

Watson, arguably the biggest female character in the franchise, goes into detail about how the fame that came with portraying Hermione Granger affected her mental health. In a conversation with Radcliffe and Grint, she reveals that she almost didn’t return to the series after the fourth installment, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” Seeing an esteemed figure reveal that they had doubts about one of the most successful cinematic projects ever offers a different perspective, one that makes the mythical, formidable world seem a bit more human.

HBO and the cast of “Harry Potter” have left no shortage of trivia and special behind-the-scenes moments for fans to obsess over, but what really makes the reunion worth the watch is the passion that every single person involved still displays for the franchise. It’s beautiful to see artists so tuned into their craft and so keenly aware of the fact that they created something that will have real influence on generations to come. 

“[In 50 years,] I’ll not be here sadly,” Coltrane said when asked about the legacy of the movies. “But Hagrid will, yes.”

And that’s exactly what’s special about “Harry Potter.” It’s not the wands, sorting hats or spells that provide the world its magic — it’s the love that everyone involved has permeated throughout every aspect of the universe, from the initial manuscript of the first novel to the last shot of the film series. 

Written by: Clara Fischer — arts@theaggie.org


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