[Contains shrieking shacks and SPOILERS!!!]
None of the issues that I had with the previous Harry Potter flicks really apply to The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)… I mean, yes, if I was feeling petty I could scoff at the decision to risk the lives (and souls) of an entire schools’ student body, just to allow a single pupil to continue his education while being hunted by an escaped killer, rather than putting him in protective custody somewhere less populated… but this film was so damn gorgeous and fun, I really didn’t even consider that potential “plot hole” until long after the credits had rolled. While the previous instalments often seemed a little jerky, as if the wheels of the plot were hitting speed-bumps and rumble-strips along the way, this was a much smoother and speedier ride… and I thought the kids’ time-twisting shenanigans made for a fantastic finale, despite the lack of a clearly defined antagonist to fight (I don’t mean that as a negative criticism… just an observation as a student of screenwriting).
After being side-lined in the previous film, it was also great to see Hermione back in the mix, literally hand-holding/dragging the hero through his trials, and once again proving that she’s the smartest sorcerer around (of any age!). In the first half of the story she was running herself ragged, using her powers to attend as many classes as magickally possible, and becoming rather snippy and shirty in the process, but thankfully she redeemed herself in the end, by saving everyone’s skins (again!). She also scored the funniest/awesomest moment of the series so far, impulsively punching Draco Malfoy in the face for gloating over the execution of an innocent animal. Bam! Tee hee. Fun fact: The film’s director, Alfonso Cuarón, asked the three main cast members to write essays about their characters before production began… Rupert Grint didn’t even bother starting his on Ron, Mark Radcliffe proudly handed in a single page on Harry, and Emma Watson turned in a 16-page epic about Hermione! Bless.
As far as supporting actresses go, there were big-name cameos by Emma Thompson (as ‘Sybill Trelawney’, the school’s hippy-dippy Divination teacher), and Julie Christie (as ‘Madame Rosmerta’, the much fancied landlady of a local inn). Meanwhile, on an “Affirmative Action” tip, this film also introduced ‘Parvati’ and ‘Padma Patil’, a pair of (non-identical) Desi twins, played by Sitara Shah and Sharon Sandhu, respectively. Technically, only Parvati was named in the credits, because she was the only one who spoke, but the Harry Potter Wiki presumes that Sandhu’s character (credited only as “Girl 2”) was Padma, so who am I to argue? Neither actress returned for the subsequent sequels… nor have they appeared in any other films since, according to IMDb.