Often Harry Potter books (and their movies) are named after the magical artifact found within them. Up to this point, we had "the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets," but this time, J.K. Rowling shook things up by naming the book after Sirius. He may be a dog sometimes, but he's not an artifact.
Harry Potter and the Marauder's Map wouldn't be a half-bad title, but the map itself doesn't factor too much in the movie. Harry's dragged aside by the Weasley twins and presented with the Map, which displays the following text:
HARRY: "Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs are proud to present the Marauder's Map."
In the novel, Harry eventually learns that these four marauders were Lupin (Moony because of the moon), Pettigrew (Wormtail because he's a gross rat with a nasty tail), Sirius (Padfoot because of the pads on his puppy feet) and James Potter (Prongs because his Patronus is a stag).
But in the film, we're left to infer this. Harry uses the map to find Peter Pettigrew and insult Snape, and Lupin's clearly is familiar with the map, because he knows the key phrase to turn it back into a blank piece of parchment:
LUPIN: "Mischief managed."
Perhaps because he knew fans might feel shortchanged at the lack of map action, Cuarón fashions the end credits of the film as a dynamic, moving Marauder's Map. And if you sit through the whole credits, you won't be treated to a glimpse of the next Marvel film, but you will hear Harry say, "Mischief managed," as the screen fades to black.
For Harry fans at the time, this movie would have to be just enough mischief to tide them over until the next time Potter's up to no good.
No one likes textbooks. They're usually dry and boring and never have as much information as you need. But be careful what you wish for. Harry's Care of Magical Creatures textbook is the opposite of your average everyday tome. It's hairy, has sharp teeth, and as far as the information it contains…well, we were too afraid to get close enough to find out.
Although the book is mostly used to show off the special effects of the time, and to include some much-needed bits of comic relief when the dark plot needs a break, the book itself stands in for a larger theme. School gets harder for everyone as they get older. For a wizard, "harder" means the added danger of dismemberment.
If this were Hermione's story, Hermione Granger and the Time-Turner would be a killer title. It would also be really, really confusing with all the time travel. (Maybe J.K. Rowling would be down for a Harry Potter-meets-Primer crossover?)
The time-travel sequence in the film is a little shorter than the one in the book, because filmmakers can play with time without the aid of magical devices. But it's still critical to plot. What is most important here is the appearance of the Time Turner itself.
You might be surprised to see that one of the most powerful magical artifacts in the entire Harry Potter series is about the size of a half-dollar. It's small enough for Hermione to wear as if it were a locket. And it has a tiny little hourglass on it, like you might use to time the shortest game of Boggle ever.
The Time-Turner shows us that powerful magic can come in unassuming packages, which makes it a good accessory for young wizards and witches like Harry and Hermione. No one expects two kids to be so powerful, either.
The people who made this movie never listened to the phrase "never work with children or animals," because they're working with both.
(And some of the animals aren't even real. We're not sure if that makes them easier or harder to work with.)
We have a handy infographic on all the animals in Prisoner of Azkaban, but not all of these creatures have equal roles in the movie.
The Crookshanks v. Scabbers rivalry is only briefly shown, as foreshadowing for Scabbers eventually running directly into the claws of Sirius in dog-form. Speaking of dog form, we have two different dog-type animals: Sirius (who's an Animagus) and Lupin the werewolf.
This brings up the element of choice. Sirius can choose to become a dog—although, as evidenced by his attacking Ron, his ability to make good choices is severely limited in dog form. Pettigrew becomes a rat, which is fitting in with his sniveling nature. Lupin can't choose to become a werewolf, and he cannot control his impulses once he transforms either, making him pretty freaking dangerous.
And then we get to everybody's favorite hippogriff. Harry's relationship with Buckbeak is similar to that of someone trying to keep a wild animal as a pet. (See also: Siegfried and Roy.) Buckbeak's still totally feral—he's likely to attack or injure someone if they don't handle him properly.
Some people, like Malfoy, want to punish Buckbeak for his animal nature. We also see Lupin later punished for his animal nature: he's forced to resign when his identity as a werewolf is exposed.
Everyone has a bit of animal inside himself, whether or not it's easy to render that animal with computer graphics or not. Even Harry, who has a primal need for revenge, must channel his energies into something positive: the Patronus. In Harry's case, it takes the form of a noble, majestic creature. No, not a proboscis monkey. A regal stag.
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Harry Potter's ordinary world is a terrible one. At least he's no longer in a cupboard under the stairs, but he's still subject to the whims of his abusive uncle Vernon and the repulsive Dursley clan. Things don't stay ordinary for Harry Potter for long, of course. He soon inflates his aunt like a balloon and flees to Hogwarts.
The plot in Prisoner of Azkaban is less an adventure and more like, "Harry, try not to get killed, okay?" The more Harry learns about Sirius Black, the more he realizes their fates are intertwined. He'll encounter him sooner or later, and he needs to be prepared.
Harry isn't the type to refuse anything, even though he solemnly swears to Mr. Weasley that he's definitely up to good:
HARRY: Mr. Weasley, why would I go looking for someone who wants to kill me?
Yeah, we don't believe that for a second.
Harry meets Professor Lupin aboard the Hogwarts Express. Not only does he save Harry from a Dementor, but he also gives him a chocolate. That's a mentor we all wish we had. Plus, they're in England, so it's probably Cadbury: a.k.a. the good stuff.
In Hogsmeade, Harry learns that Sirius is his godfather and that he betrayed his parents, leading to their death. It's at this point where Harry realizes that he must find Sirius and avenge his parents. He wouldn't be out of place in a Tarantino revenge fantasy.
To find Sirius, Harry uses the Marauder's Map. This shows him Peter Pettigrew, whom Harry believes to be another of Sirius's victims. You know the saying the enemy of your enemy is your friend? Well, Pettigrew might be an ally if he's another person who Sirius betrayed.
This is less an approach to the inmost cave, and more like, "Ron just got dragged kicking and screaming into the inmost cave" stage of the Hero's Journey. Harry must follow Ron into the Shrieking Shack to confront Sirius, whom he still believes to be one of Voldemort's right-hand men. (How many right hands does ol' Voldy have?)
After learning Sirius's true identity, all heck breaks loose under the shade of the Whomping Willow tree, which is taking a nap or something. Lupin turns into a werewolf. Dementors almost eat Harry. And Sirius is recaptured.
The only way to fix it is for Hermione to use the Time Turner and set things right.
Thanks to Hermione and her magical hourglass, Harry's able to save Sirius. As nice as it is to have a new family member he can trust, Sirius isn't the real reward here. The true reward is Harry's newfound strength and confidence.
He faces his fear and conjures a massive Patronus that scares away the Dementors. And the Patronus looks like Harry's father's. It's here where Harry accepts that he'll never be able to bring back his father. But he now knows he can become a young man who his father would be proud to call his son.
The road back is through the sky, as Harry and Hermione ride Buckbeak back to Hogwarts to rescue Sirius from his tower cell.
The prisoner of Azkaban has his identity restored as Sirius Black, part-time dog and full-time godfather to Harry Potter. Also resurrected is Harry's hope at having a somewhat normal life, as he knows he has a new family member who loves him.
Sirius must flee, which is a bit of an emotional setback for Harry, who hoped he'd get to live with Sirius. But if he feels rejected by his godfather, it's only for a moment. Sirius soon delivers a Firebolt broomstick (the fastest in the world) which is his way of showing Harry that he will support him however he can.
If you think visiting one of the greatest schools of magic would ever get old, you need some help. Or maybe a SAD lamp: are you feeling okay? But this is the third year Harry Potter has visited Hogwarts, and the filmmakers have to do something to hold our interest. They can't show us the same sets again and again.
Cuarón brought some real-life magic to the setting by filming in more real-life locations than previous films, which were mostly shot on sound stages. He had no qualms about moving Hagrid's hut to a more scenic location. And many of the surrounding environs were filmed in the lush country of Scotland. (Source)
All the gorgeous scenery doesn't mean that Cuarón left Hogwarts itself behind. He populates the halls with ghosts, shows us the incredible moving staircases, and even casts Dawn French (Vicar of Dibley) as the Fat Lady. French brings her perfect comic timing to her brief role as the painting guarding the Gryffindor common room.
Years before fans could actually visit Hogwarts at Orlando Studios, Cuarón's vision gave fans hope that Hogwarts wasn't just a figment of their imaginations.
Daniel Radcliffe has a lot of work to do, being in almost every scene of the movie—except when he's under the invisibility cloak, which gives him a bit of a break. The Harry Potter novels are told in third person, enabling them to explore different perspectives, even if they do center on Harry himself.
The movie follows the same structure, focusing primarily on Harry. In fact, we don't see any scenes outside Harry's perspective in this installment. That allows us to be kept wondering about different aspects of the mystery: what is Hermione up to? Is Sirius evil? Why won't Dumbledore say something straightforwardly? These mysteries are all revealed in time.
Well, except for the Dumbledore one. He stays cryptic until the very end.
Harry Potter is a fantasy story through-and-through, and a pretty traditional one at that. Wizards: check. Magical creatures: check. Castles: check. Magic spells that inflate annoying relatives into giant balloons: check.
However, modern fantasy tackles these traditional fantasy narratives from different angles. Game of Thrones, for example, adds steamy sex scenes. The Potterverse tackles the fantasy story from a young person's point of view. It uses its magical elements to emphasize the struggles we all face as young adults. Harry Potter doesn't just go to school—he goes to school with textbooks that can eat him.
Also, Harry Potter exists in our world, which gives us hope that someday we might actually find Platform 9 ¾. Cuarón emphasizes the real-world elements of Harry Potter in this installment by having his characters dress in street clothes like normal kids.
And it makes it a lot easier for us to cosplay when we don't have to get our robes dry-cleaned.
We covered the "Harry Potter" part of the title already (check out Harry's Character Analysis) so let's talk about the "Prisoner of Azkaban" part.
First of all, what the heck is an Azkaban? A mind-control spell? A new Muppet? If you were new to the Potterverse, you'd learn here that Azkaban is the Arkham Asylum of the Harry Potter world. All the baddest criminals are kept there. It's supposed to be impenetrable, but it isn't. Someone gets out, and that someone is the titular "Prisoner of Azkaban."
The prisoner is Sirius Black, and the title needs to be vague about his real role. Simply calling him the prisoner of Azkaban is 100% accurate without being a spoiler. None of these titles would work.
Harry Potter and His Godfather
Harry Potter and His Dogfather
Harry Potter and His Parents' Betrayer
Harry Potter and Gary Oldman's Prison Tats
Harry Potter and Taco Night
Those titles would either be lies or give away too much of the plot. "Prisoner of Azkaban" allows the story to be mysterious, while not betraying the trust of the viewer. But really, guys, when is taco night at Hogwarts?
It was a lot easier to get out of Shawshank than it is to get out of Azkaban.
While we're not sure how Sirius broke out of the wizard prison, his journey isn't done yet. While attempting to catch the true villain (the rat Peter Pettigrew) Sirius runs the risk of not just being recaptured and re-imprisoned, but being subjected to the Dementor's Kiss. We'd rather kiss Aunt Marge. With tongue.
To secure Sirius's freedom, Harry and Hermione (mostly Hermione) must travel back in time and prevent the execution of Buckbeak the hippogriff, which supplies Sirius with a handy getaway vehicle.
(If you want to check out a baller analysis of the time travelling aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban, check out M.J. Young's page.)
But taking the H.G. Wells-iness out of the equation, what does the ending mean to our characters and to the series as a whole?
Probably the most important event is that Harry has a new ally: Sirius Black, his dogfather—er—godfather. And although they're not related by blood, Sirius is the closest thing Harry has to a family member besides the pukesome Dursleys. Sirius has the potential to be the father that Harry never had.
But the story doesn't exactly have a happy ending. Sirius promises that Harry can live with him, but he takes back that promise before leaving. It's hard for a single dad to raise a magical wizard when he's on the run from the law. But Sirius isn't a total deadbeat god-dad. He delivers a fancy broomstick to Harry, ensuring he'll be the fastest kid on the Quidditch pitch.
Even though Harry's name is in the title, the ending is significant for Hermione too. Sirius delivers her an amazing compliment.
SIRIUS: You really are the brightest witch of your age.
Hermione's often made fun of or put down because of her intelligence, so this remark comes at a critical time. It's a huge boost in confidence for the young witch.
As for Ron…well, poor Ron didn't have much to do in this one. And even though Harry gained a godfather, Ron lost a pet. See ya, Scabbers.
The movie ends with a nifty credits sequence that gives us a good look at the magical Marauder's Map. The very last thing we hear is Harry saying, "Mischief managed. Nox," which extinguishes the light, and we fade to black.
Night night. Don't let the Dementors bite.
Although Alfonso Cuarón directed the very NC-17 film Y Tu Mamá También prior to Azkaban, we stay firmly in PG territory here.
Hormones haven't yet gone wild at Hogwarts, although we do glimpse a bit of a budding romance between Ron and Hermione. The Dementors are pretty intense, but as long as you don't think too long about what it would be like to have your own soul sucked out and never be happy again, they won't give you nightmares.
(Um, we'll be sleeping with the lights on.)