“Return to Hogwarts” is a necessary nostalgia trip for every Potterhead

5 out of 5 stars

     “Mysterious thing, time.” Thus opens the long-awaited HBO Max original, “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts,” employing a quote from Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore to remind viewers of the central theme of this highly anticipated special. 

     Airing two decades after the release of the first film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” HBO Max’s “Return to Hogwarts” reunites the actors, producers and directors of the “Harry Potter” film franchise who helped to bring author J.K. Rowling’s magical world to life.    

     Specifically, this special gave the cast and crew the opportunity to reflect upon the impact of the film and book series on both a personal and a global scale over the last twenty years. 

     “Return to Hogwarts” lived up to my expectations as a fan of both the books and the films. Having been following news of this release in the months leading up to the airing of the special, I expected to see most of the cast return to discuss their roles in the films, the success of the franchise as it has continued in the form of the “Fantastic Beasts” series, and the popularity of the Wizarding World theme parks in the United States and beyond.  

     In saying that, if one were to turn the special on hoping for some sort of continuation of the film series, they would likely be disappointed to find out this is not another sequel, but rather a documentary.   

     There were several great aspects of this reunion special that are worth highlighting. For one, 18 of the cast members from the film series made an appearance on the show, including Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry; Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger; and Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley.  

     Other notable Potter alumni included Tom Felton (fan favorite Draco Malfoy), Robbie Coltraine (Hagrid), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) and the big bad himself, Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort).   

     Over the course of the nearly two-hour special, the cast visited several set pieces from the franchise where they reflected on growing up in the world of “Harry Potter,” creating long-lasting friendships and memories with their co-stars, working with actors who are considered “British acting royalty” and sharing stories about the cast members who have passed away since the release of the films. 

     The directors and producers of all eight films also made appearances to discuss the process of creating the world of “Harry Potter” and their various approaches to the development of each film in accordance with what it needed.  

     For film lovers such as myself, hearing well-known directors Christopher Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates providing their own insights into the filming process and the success of the franchise was particularly interesting. 

     Watching the cast and crew interact with one another both in the present, as well as in short clips of behind-the-scenes and blooper reels, brought back an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and reinvigorated my love of the series as a whole.  

     J.K. Rowling’s presence in the special was limited to brief snippets of interviews from 2019. Given the current bad press surrounding the author, it was likely a smart decision to focus the attention of the special almost exclusively on the actors from the film franchise.  

     Perhaps the most emotionally moving moment was the short tribute to all of the crew members who have passed away since the release of the first film. Most notably these names included Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore in the first two films), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon Dursley), John Hurt (Mr. Ollivander) and Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy).  

     In addition, Robbie Coltrane provided one of the most striking quotes of the special: “The legacy of the movies is that my children’s generation will show them to their children, so you could be watching in 50 years’ time, easy. I’ll not be here, sadly, but…but Hagrid will, yes…”  

     Overall, this special was worth the watch. I laughed. I cried. But most of all, I enjoyed myself. 

     I think the only part of the special that fell short was its inclusion of some of the other prominent characters from the films. Several cast members were missing from the special, all of which would have been wonderful to see again.  

     I was simply left wanting more. 

     For anyone who is interested in watching “Return to Hogwarts,” the special can be found exclusively on HBO Max. If you don’t have HBO Max, fear not, as there are rumors that “Return to Hogwarts” will be released on satellite channels such TBS and Cartoon Network sometime this spring, so keep an eye out. 

HBO hosted a Harry Potter special with the original cast about the creation of the film series. Image courtesy of hbomax.com.