Azkaban: a prison for dangerous wizards and impossible to escape from. But somehow convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken free and it appears that he is hunting down the famous Harry Potter. Harry, along with friends Hermione and Ron, must try to find Sirius first – but in doing so the past comes back to haunt Harry in a way he could never have foreseen. 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Is Harry Potter and the Prioner of Azkaban appropriate for kids

Rating: PG

Running Length: 141 mins

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman

Genre: Fantasy

 

REVIEW

‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ marks an important turn in the tone of the Harry Potter franchise. Whereas the next instalment being ‘The Goblet of Fire’ (which we review here) would move the series definitively into the ‘young adult’ category and the preceding films (‘Chamber of Secrets’ and ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ – known as ‘the Sorcerer’s Stone’ in the US) were aimed at young children, ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ could be best described as the transition movie. The wide-eyed wonder is still present and the childish glee at the magical world of the Potter films shines through. However the threat is dealt with much more darkly than before and with the introduction of the ghoulish Dementors, the ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ brings a much scarier foe to the fold than previously experienced.

‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ is a wonderful example of how to balance many otherwise competing elements. The contrast between light and dark is managed excellently with neither tone dominating the other. Featuring not only a time travel storyline made much easier to follow than could have been the case but also a slightly more haunted Harry who struggles to deal with the traumas of his parents’ fate, ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ is a more mature story than its predecessors whilst still retaining enough fun to make it an appealing entry for a wide range of ages.

IS ‘HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

The majority of the potentially inappropriate content in this film is down to the fear factor. The central concept is that Sirius Black is a deranged murderer and is hunting Harry in order to kill him, which we often see worrying or upsetting him and his friends.  Added to that is the presence of the black-robed and wraith like beings called the Dementors, who are the guards of Azkaban prison and are searching for Black. As you can see from the clip below, these creatures are mostly shown as dark floating robes but we can occasionally see rotten decaying features. They are described as ‘one of the foulest creatures to roam the earth’ and present the main scares of this film.

Specifically, aside from their introduction scene they also attack Harry during a game of Quidditch. The game takes place in a blustery storm making the visibility and cinematography murky. The Dementors chase Harry through the cloud cover and attack him for a scene lasting around 2 minutes. The manner in which they attack is to ‘drain the life’ out of a victim which is portrayed using a rasping, sucking noise whilst the victim’s face blurs. The expression of the victim is fearful and painful. The Quidditch scene is an ‘action’ moment and so the fear element isn’t particularly played up at this point, therefore whether or not a child will be happy with this scene will be most likely down to whether or not they can deal with the Dementors as a concept.

The other constant threat is that of Sirius Black. All the characters fear him and describe him as a ‘murderer’ throughout. His raging and insane looking face is shown on a magically animated picture on posters and the newspaper several times. His appearance in the final act of the movie takes place in the ‘Shrieking Shack’. This is a place introduced earlier as a haunted house and when the action moves to this setting it is shot with lots of off centre camera work, dark lighting and moody music. Whilst there is a large amount of plot development in this scene the lead up to it is full of scary action as the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are pursued by a huge black dog that has been referred to throughout as ‘The Grim’: a harbinger of death. There are snarling sounds and close-ups on the growling, drooling figure

In addition, immediately after this scene a large aggressive werewolf attacks the party at night causing them to flee into the forest. The appearance of the werewolf is a CGI close up shot and this could be scary for some kids. We then see many Dementors attacking Harry and he is shown to be in pain as they attempt to suck out his soul. This whole sequence of events, whilst not played for fear for its entirety, lasts around 15 – 20 minutes and the length of the tension could be upsetting for younger viewers.

Another plot involves a large animal called a Hippogriff. This creature is part horse, part eagle and named Buckbeak. Hagrid is particularly attached to Buckbeak and when circumstances lead to a sentence of death by execution for the animal, Hagrid is shown to be heartbroken. Later a masked execution is shown to raise an axe. The camera follows the axe up, but does not follow it down. In any event, a chopping sound is heard and it is clear that Buckbeak is supposed to have died, although the audience’s understanding of the situation is later changed. The full details are not known until much later and a child upset by lovable animals being hurt may not enjoy this scene.

Lastly, there is a moment in the second act where the Divinations teacher, Mrs Trelawney, has a vision. This takes the form of her staring blankly into the middle distance and speaking in a warped and scary voice. She foretells doom and the camera stays on a close up shot during this speech. She then ‘comes to’ and is unaware of what has happened. It is a short moment but unexpected and could make kids jump as the character was previously rather scatty and played for laughs.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

Whereas the previous two movies were brightly lit with child actors and a playful bouncy soundtrack, this movie marks the first foray into darker territory with subdued colours, tense music and actors with deeper layers of concern running through them. Whilst the potentially unsuitable content is not as constant and prolonged as follow up ‘The Goblet of Fire’, ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ features around 15 – 20 minutes of high tension with several big frights. The moments where a child may not enjoy the content are no longer over quickly, they are sustained and played up for full effect. For that reason we would advise caution for any child under the age of 9 and supervision for any child that may be uncomfortable with the presence of frightening scenes.

  • Violence:  2/5 (the violence is usually magical in nature with spells knocking people back – no blood, gore or physical violence)
  • Emotional Distress: 3/5 (whenever a character is in danger other characters are either scared or concerned for them. Hagrid is very upset about Buckbeak although this is short-lived)
  • Fear Factor: 4/5
  • Sexual Content: 0/5
  • Bad Language: 1/5 (some mild cursing, mostly from Ron. The aunt character at the beginning of the film uses the word ‘bitch’ when talking about female dogs)
  • Dialogue: 4/5 (there is constant talk of murderers, death and revenge. When Sirius Black first appears his dialogue seems very threatening in nature and he keeps ranting about killing)
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of vengeance, family, the power of positivity and the strength of enduring loyalty)

Words by Mike Record

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