You might not think that the dude responsible for the steamy Mexican road trip film Y Tu Mamá También would be the #1 choice to direct kid's film. After all, Y Tu Mamá También was about two teenage boys, um, "traveling" with an older woman. (Dang.)
But you'd be wrong.
Somehow, the unlikely pairing worked, even though Cuarón was one of seven people on the planet who hadn't read a Harry Potter book at the time he got the job. (Source)
That doesn't mean Cuarón wasn't a reader. His other big films had been adaptations of popular novels. Cuarón brought Great Expectations (1998) to life, although he moved the setting from 19th Century London to modern-day New York City (and, oh yeah: he made the movie way steamier than the Dickens novel).
But Cuarón stayed within the borders of Great Britain (and refrained from adding any extra-saucy scenes) in Harry Potter. And the result is awesome. Azkaban dealt with darker themes than the first two movies, making Cuarón a perfect fit.
Not only does Cuarón do a fantastic, respectful job portraying the tumultuous inner lives of teens, he also doesn't pull punches with the scary imagery, like the Dementors and werewolves. He's confident that his audience can handle it.
Oh, and bonus: he took Harry and the gang out of their robes, putting them in street clothes for the first time in the franchise. Hoodies are far more comfy than wizarding gear.
If there were a magical incantation to translate a book into a screenplay, the perfect time to use it would be when adapting the seven Harry Potter novels for the screen. And if Steve Kloves used such a spell, he's not confessing to it.
(We're not sure if adapting one of the most popular book series of all time into a movie is the greatest gig in the world or the worst. Fighting Voldemort might be easier than appealing to the billions of Potterheads.)
But Kloves more or less succeeded. He wrote the screenplays for all eight Potter films, and received Hugo Award nominations for most of his efforts.
Prior to Potter, Kloves adapted the screenplay from Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys (2000) and created The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) starring Catwoman—er—Michelle Pfeiffer. (Source)
So yeah. Kloves is a talent whether or not he's working in adaptation, Nic Cage-style.
The captain of a ship needs to know when step aside and let someone else take the wheel. We're unsure what nautical expertise Chris Columbus—the director of the first two Harry Potter film adaptations, possesses—but he knows enough about movies to know when to let another director hoist the mainsail. (It's taking all our effort to not make a pun about the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria right now. Whoops. Too late. Sorry, Chris Columbus.)
Columbus may have given up his director's chair, but he didn't abandon ship entirely. He continued to produce Azkaban though his production company, 1492 Pictures. Sensing a theme here? His company is also responsible for a few of Ben Stiller's Night at the Museums (or should that be Nights at the Museum?) and two films starring Harry's brother from another mother, Percy Jackson.
Azkaban was co-produced by Heyday Films, which was founded in 1997 by film producer David Heyman, the "Hey" in "Heyday." Who's the Day? Doris Day? Felicia Day? Groundhog Day?
Heyday produced all eight Harry Potter films, as well as the 2016 spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Heyman also produced Selma in 2014 and worked again with Cuarón to strand Sandra Bullock in space in 2013's Gravity, so their talents aren't limited to witches and wizards. Their films are almost always hits—they can't quite conjure money out of thin air, but they come close.
One of the best parts about being an actor has to be all the cool clothes and costumes you get to wear. Who wouldn't want to wear Hogwarts robes around every day? (If you really want to, what's stopping you? Let your Ravenclaw flag fly.)
But as cool as those robes, it would get old to wear them all the time. So the young actors of Prisoner of Azkaban were thrilled when Alfonso Cuarón allowed them to dress themselves. (Source)
Cuarón wanted to explore the more human sides of these magical characters, and getting them into their street clothes was the perfect way to show it on camera. Plus, seeing them dressed like us makes us identify with them even more.
In case all the talk about street clothes confused you, don't worry: we're still talking about a Harry Potter movie. It's a fantasy, with magical creatures that need to look sufficiently fantastic as well as believable. The crew created practical models of Buckbeak, trying to get his look right down to the feather. They combined these models with CG technology to create the living, breathing creature we see on screen. (Source)
Maybe the coolest effects in the film belong to the scariest creatures. No, not Snape and his hissy fits, but the Dementors. To get the creepy, swirly look of their black cloaks, the crew experimented with underwater puppets to get the proper movement of their tattered garments. (Source)
As if we weren't already scared enough of going in the water, we have to add Dementors to our list of underwater fears, which already includes Jaws, Ursula from the Little Mermaid, and the Snorks. (We'd rather take our chances with Dementors.)
John Williams, a.k.a. That Guy Who Composed Almost Every Spielberg Film, composed the first three Harry Potter films, including this one. He's responsible for the iconic title theme, known as "Hedwig's Theme," which is featured in all eight movies and makes us close our eyes and picture Hogwarts on the backs of our eyelids.
Like the movie itself, Williams' score takes on a darker tone this time around, featuring tracks like "The Dementors Converge" for the scene where the Dementors converge and "The Werewolf Scene" for the scene with the werewolf. Hogwarts feels like the medieval castle it is supposed to be in this installment, and Williams' score sounds like music you may have heard echo in its stony halls centuries ago. (Source)
Williams also injects a bit of Shakespeare into the proceedings with the "Double Trouble" song featuring the lyric "Something wicked this way comes." (We, of course, remember that from Act 4, Scene 1 of Macbeth, 'cause we're lit nerds like that.)
But even Shakespeare never dreamed up something as frightening as the Dementors. "Wicked" barely even begins to cover those hellish creatures.
As far as merchandising goes, Harry Potter might be second only to Star Wars. Today we have a Harry Potter theme park, Harry Potter LEGOs and LEGO video games, and enough Harry Potter-themed clothing to fill your entire wardrobe…once you get that pesky boggart out of there, of course. (We delve into all this in great detail over at our Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone movie page, so fly your broomstick over thataway if you want more.)
In 2004, though, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter still existed only in fans' wildest dreams. Potterphiles instead turned to fan sites like The Leaky Cauldron or Mugglenet for the latest Harry news and gossip.
But there were plenty of action figures to collect in 2004 to re-enact major scenes in your own home, without the risk of putting someone's eye out with a wand. Mattel released figures of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Buckbeak, and included playsets of Potions class and the Knight Bus.
There is even the "Expecto Patronum" Harry action figure which shoots spells from his wand. Okay, somebody might lose an eye after all, but there's gotta be a spell to put it back, right? Can you use oculo repairo on an actual eyeball?