Just watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with the boys. After this, my second viewing, I am compelled to speak out. Spoilers ahead, Potter neophytes.
In the Potterverse, a rare wizard may turn himself into an animal at will; such a wizard is called an “animagus.”
When this person transforms from man to beast, he takes his clothes with him. Thus, if you start like so:
… you can abracadabra yourself to look like so:
… without so much as turning out your pockets. Very efficient!
It works in reverse as well. If you skitter about in your fur one moment thusly:
… you can pop back to your old two-legged self the next moment without having to dash for your clothes:
Poof! Instant suit. No awkward naked scenes for actor Timothy Spall.
And even though I greatly enjoyed Prisoner of Azkaban the book, and found Prisoner of Azkaban the movie to be a jolt of zippy energy to the Potter franchise, and generally think director Alfonso Cuaron is aces, here’s the kind of thing that bugs the snot out of me:
This character is Mousing Out without taking the suit with him. He leaves a big empty pile of duds behind before scampering off in rat form. There’s no good in-story reason why he would not transform with duds (Who couldn’t use a change of clothes and a wallet when he decides to walk on two legs again?) nor is there an in-world rule that could wave this away (e.g., “It takes more time to magic up the clothes,” or “It requires extra wizardy power to transform polyester into fur.”).
No, the only good reason to do this is because it looks cool to see an emptied suit crumple to the ground. Which is true. This is a swell visual. But it sure makes wizards (and the people who create them) seem like a sloppy bunch.
Meanwhile, in the background of this scene, we can see what a person who changes into an animal without transforming his clothes really is:
That’s right, punks. It’s a werewolf. Which makes Scabbers a wererat, doesn’t it? Book it, Potter peeps.
And another thing.
Cuaron missed a perfect opportunity to really sell a hard-to-buy moment in this film.
Early in the film, Cuaron adds a really nice character moment that’s not in the books. After all the requisite slam-bang plot points from the book are duly acted out in order, he slows us down for just a moment to show Harry and his friends settling into the school year at Hogwarts. They’re behaving like kids — more importantly, behaving like characters we can like and relate to. The camera floats through Harry’s dorm room as he and his friends are goofing about, sampling magical candy that causes lifelike animal sounds to emanate from their pipes:
In a plot-packed Potter movie, it’s rare to have such a jolly, story-free moment for the main characters. All on its own, this is a great addition of the film to the franchise. But Cuaron could have made it an essential scene if he had invoked the playwright’s principle known as “Chekov’s Gun”: If you show the audience a gun in Act One, it had better be fired in Act Three.
So over here in Act Three, the audience is confronted with a werewolf ambling up to a victim (the kind of predictably slow movie amble that gives the hero time to act). How will this victim be saved?
Brave Hermione, who stands in the distance, puts her hands to her mouth and howls like a wolf, that’s how.
It sounds like a girl pretending to howl like a wolf. But the werewolf buys it.
For whatever reason, though it stands here with a wizard-sized meal waiting within a claw’s reach, it hears this fake howl in the distance and decides, “Ho! I had better follow up on that!”
This asks too much of the audience. It jerked me out the movie, that’s for sure. If only Cuaron had remembered his magical candies from Act One.
Imagine: Hermione pops a candy into her mouth, and hey presto, she belts a real ripping wolf howl. Or a wounded sheep bleat. Or an enraged Godzilla torching Tokyo.Whatever, it could have sounded like something worth pursuing to the exclusion of the sitting duck right in front of him.
How much more satisfying (and believable) would this moment have been?
With all my kvetching, you’d almost think I was a Potter hater, but I’m the furthest thing. It’s only because I’m so invested in the movie that I want scenes like these to work. I want to believe. Alas, the World’s Dumbest Lycanthrope is begging me to blow raspberries, and who am I to deny a werewolf his wishes?