TJ Reid leaves his review of Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts.
While there are still plenty of Harry Potter fans in Gen Z, I’m afraid most of those kids will never appreciate how far many of their millennial predecessors went for the famous wizarding series in time, myself included. How many of these youngsters can say they’ve been to a midnight book release, or bought so many Hufflepuff badges over the years that their room looks like a giant exploded bumblebee? I guess not many. The Harry Potter craze of the 2000s was a particularly crazy time, and it’s a craziness that many of us carried with us into adulthood. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is a joyous and nostalgic look at that crazy moment of magic, though Muggles (i.e. newcomers to the series) may find this celebratory documentary a little too mystifying to metabolize.
After a corny and uncomfortably scripted introduction, Back to Hogwarts kicks off the Quaffle with a review of the first two films in the series, 2001 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and 2002 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The entire two-hour special follows this general format, tackling two films per segment via cast discussions and behind-the-scenes clips, mostly relegating the books to the background. Considering the sheer number of comedians involved in the eight-film epic, the fact that they were able to bring back so many famous names is pretty impressive, although I inevitably started to wonder who was there just for the paycheck. (certainly not Helena Bonham Carter, who seemed to be having a blast and was the undeniable life of the party). The retrospective also had the tricky task of distancing author JK Rowling’s Harry Potter film legacy after her recent problematic (and well-publicized) comments, which I won’t get into here, and in that it mostly succeeds. keeping the focus mainly on the filmmakers. For book purists this might be a little disappointing, but for movie fans (as they are very different beasts indeed) this lens is ideal.
As a Potterhead who loves both, I’ve found myself wishing they had spent more time on each of the films, because 15 minutes or so really isn’t enough time to fully explore the process of putting a movie on screen. single book. At the same time, two hours seemed a bit long for this sort of thing, so I would have ultimately preferred a miniseries that devoted two hour-long episodes to each movie, or something like that. My only other criticism to Back to Hogwarts was his lack of an emcee role, which might have given the documentary a bit more cohesion as it moved from room to room. Daniel Radcliffe himself was probably closest to the retrospective, as he occasionally asked interview questions of the other cast members, but he was still far from being omnipresent.
Globally Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is a magical trip down memory lane, but like all retrospectives of its kind, it’s probably a trip that should only be taken by those who know the subject matter intimately. Muggles might want to stay away, but everyone else, welcome home.
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is available now on HBO Max.