Given how the last two years have gone, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day almost feel somber. But if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ve been eagerly looking forward to New Year’s Day 2022. Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is now out on HBO Max, and it features the reunions of the cast and crew that brought J.K. Rowling’s beloved book series to the big screen.
This reunion special was announced this past November to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter films release. Trailers and teasers have had us fans eager for the special. It is now available to watch, and it’s a true blast to watch, especially if you grew up during the years when these films were being released and creating a craze. While it has a lot of moments that are clearly staged, which makes the authenticity of some of the reunion moments questionable, it’s still a joy to watch.
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts Recap
The special is divided into different chapters told in order of the release of the eight original films of the series. Former child stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and more remember the fun and exciting family atmosphere created by Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets director Chris Columbus. They then remember being given greater responsibilities as teenagers by Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron. It continues with the remaining films taking them into adulthood until the bittersweet end of the Hogwarts days (and the end of the Harry Potter era for these young actors) came in Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2. It’s deeply fascinating to watch these actors remember being excitable and hyperactive kids having to become more and more focused on mastering their acting skills as they got older.
We also get interviews with the older actors from the films such as Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Jones, Ralph Fiennes, and more. Many stories from the filming experience are shared. Those stories range from funny (i.e. Grint and Watson awkwardly preparing for their kiss in the last film) to emotionally intense (i.e. Watson nearly bowing out of the films when she realized how fame was changing her life). Can you imagine anyone else as Hermione?
There’s also a loving tribute to the many stars of the series who have passed on. Such actors include Richard Harris, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Helen McCrory, and Alan Rickman. This is among the specials many emotional moments, which also include the now-adult actors truly being able to look back fondly on the unique acting experience they had of growing up together and being a real family.
Return to Hogwarts Review
There are several highlights in Return to Hogwarts. Perhaps the biggest one is just seeing these now grown actors looking back on what growing up filming this iconic series was like. Growing up is a major theme in the Harry Potter series as the characters go from excited children to young adults facing major responsibilities and challenges. Readers and moviegoers who grew up during the Harry Potter craze feel as though they grew up with the characters, and there’s a sense of identification in hearing what the journey from childhood to adulthood was like for these actors as it related to Harry Potter. Honestly, and this is especially for late 80’s and early 90’s babies who grew up standing in line for the films, you feel like you grew up alongside these actors in some way and you are reminiscing with them as you hear their stories.
I also deeply appreciated the tribute that was paid to the actors who have been lost. These actors played iconic characters from our youth, and their absence from this special is deeply felt. In particular, the special feels almost incomplete without the late Alan Rickman who brought the incredible Professor Severus Snape to the screen in a way no other actor could. You can see the loss is still felt for the living cast members, and they beautifully honor their departed colleagues in this tribute.
One more highlight that I respected was seeing credit given where it was due, namely to the woman who started it all. J.K. Rowling was notably not included in the special and many thought it was due to controversy surrounding some of her past tweets being perceived as transphobic (though it has now been determined that Rowling chose not to be in the special). While many cast members have expressed serious disagreement with some of Rowling’s beliefs, there was a lot of respect paid to her during this special. Along with the use of past interviews, many cast members especially Robbie Coltrane, expressed their massive respect for Rowling who’s creativity not only gave them a great filmmaking opportunity but also brought back a love for books and reading. While they may disagree with her on some matters, it’s nice to see the cast and crew honoring the woman who made these films possible.
Other highlights simply include seeing the cast revisiting some iconic moments, and seeing the actors get vulnerable in expressing how much the film series still means to them to this day. If I have any gripes about this reunion, it is that some moments do seem a bit staged, which may lead some to question their authenticity. However, that is the nature of film and TV, and it’s such a small matter that it doesn’t require much thought.
If you’re a major fan of the Harry Potter series, especially one who grew up as the books and films were being released, Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is going to be a wonderful trip down memory lane for you. In a way, those of us who grew up with these films did grow up with these characters and actors. Watching this special, it almost feels like we’re reminiscing about the series with them. Seeing these child actors all grown up is sure to make you feel a bit old, but it will also feel like seeing old childhood friends who you loved watching on the big screen. Go check out the special and kick-off 2022 with some magic.
- Full of fun and emotional moments
- Lots of nostalgia for long-time fans
- A true celebration of the series
- Some moments are clearly staged
- Would have preferred more moments between the greater cast