Sirius Black, the notorious murderer, has somehow evaded the Dementors (vicious, spirit-type creatures) and escaped from the impenetrable Azkaban Prison. Mr Weasley, from the Ministry of Magic, warns Harry that he is in serious danger as Sirius is headed for Hogwarts to find him. It’s believed that it was Sirius Black (Harry’s Godfather) who betrayed Harry’s parents to Voldemort. This led to their death.
While the students are on their way to Hogwarts on the train, it suddenly comes to a stop and all the lights go out. The window panes freeze over and a Dementor enters Harry’s carriage and tries to drag him away, causing him to faint. The Dementor might have succeeded but for Professor Lupin, teacher of Defence of the Dark Arts, who overcomes the creature with his wand. At Hogwarts, Dumbledore explains that Dementors are guarding the grounds to prevent Sirius Black from entering. He warns the students to keep well away.
Dumbledore and the teachers try to keep the school operating normally and Lupin starts to teach the young wizards and witches about boggarts. Boggarts are figments of the imagination that appear to students in the form of their most feared object. To combat them, students learn to yell out ‘ridiculous’ and the boggart changes into something funny. The Divination teacher Professor Trelawney fears for Harry and predicts disastrous events for him. Hagrid, the giant groundskeeper, tries to teach the students how to befriend a hippogriff called Buckbeak. Harry succeeds but when Malfoy (a particularly nasty student whose father has some influence in running the school) tries, Buckbeak rears up and kicks him in the shoulder. Malfoy immediately seeks the dismissal of Hagrid but has to be satisfied with the execution of Buckbeak.
Harry and his two friends, Ron and Hermione, try to console Hagrid but are very upset themselves. On their way back from Hagrid’s house, a wolf runs at them. It grabs Ron by the ankle and dragging him into a hole beneath the Whomping Willow tree. Harry and Hermione try to enter the hole but the tree does its best to keep them out, beating them back with its branches and sending Hermione flying. They eventually enter and find Ron with a broken leg, unable to move. He tries to warn them that it’s a trap, but he is too late. Sirius is there waiting for them. Harry runs at Sirius and nearly chokes him but is prevented by the arrival of Lupin.
Sirius explains to Harry that it was in fact Peter Pettigrew who betrayed Harry’s parents, not Sirius. Some had thought that Peter Pettigrew had also been killed with Harry’s parents but he has actually been living as Ron’s pet rat Scabbers for the past 12 years. Sirius makes Scabbers turn back into Peter and confess his crimes.
At midnight, things start to turn nasty when Lupin turns into a werewolf, Peter turns back into a rat and runs away, and Sirius turns into a wolf. Sirius and Lupin fight ferociously and when Sirius becomes human again he has an injured shoulder and is unable to fight off the Dementors who are waiting for him. Harry, however, who has been taking private lessons from Lupin on how to defend himself against the Dementors, manages to overpower them, thinking that it is in fact his father casting the spell. Harry is overcome by his efforts and Sirius appears dead. They are both taken back to Hogwarts, where Sirius is locked in the tower awaiting return to Azkaban.
Dumbledore saves the situation with a plan in which he engages Hermione’s help, hoping to save the life of more than one innocent victim.
Fantasy, horror and supernatural themes
- Buckbeak rears up at Malfoy and kicks him in the shoulder.
- During the Quidditch match, one of the players is struck by lightening and falls to the ground. During the match, a Dementor breathes menacingly on Harry who also falls to the ground.
- Using the anonymity of his invisibility cloak Harry beats up Malfoy and his two mates for harassing Hermione and Ron.
- Hermione threatens Malfoy with her wand then punches him. Ron and Harry perceive this act as heroic.
- The wolf rushes at Harry, Ron and Hermione, dragging Ron into a hole in the Whomping Willow tree.
- The Whomping Willow tree attacks Harry and Hermione, beating them violently with its branches, lifting Hermione up and swinging her round, sending her flying.
- Harry attacks Sirius and nearly chokes him.
- Harry attacks Snape and knocks him out.
- Buckbeak kicks the werewolf and sends him flying.
Content that may disturb children
- Dementors appear as faceless, hooded and cloaked creatures that fly and float around and have really long, bony, pointed fingers. Two scenes in which Dementors try to suck the life force out of Harry’s and Sirius’s bodies could be particularly disturbing.
- When Harry leaves home, he sits on the street with his suitcase when strange things start to happen. The street light goes out, the playground equipment starts moving on its own, and Harry sees a wolf with green eyes glaring at him. The wolf appears vicious and starts growling at Harry.
- Harry gets picked up by a magic bus that has a talking and laughing skull hanging in the window.
- The bus drives madly through the town while the bus conductor explains to Harry about Sirius Black the ‘murderer’.
- The bus drops Harry off at the Leaky Cauldron, which is in a very scary ‘Dickensian’ part of town. Harry is met there by a hunchback.
- Harry tries to open the Monster Book of Monsters which has moving yellow eyes and hairy claws holding it shut. When he gets it open, the book chases Harry around the room.
- The Hogwarts train stops suddenly and all the lights go out. The window panes freeze over and Ron sees something moving ‘out there’. A Dementor enters the carriage and tries to drag Harry out of his body. Lupin casts a spell on the Dementor turning it away.
- Dumbledore warns the students to keep away from the Dementors who are ‘very vicious creatures’.
- Ghosts walk through the halls at Hogwarts.
- Professor Trelawney scares Harry by telling him he has ‘the grim’.
- The Monster Book of Monsters attacks Neville.
- The Hippogriff is a large bird-like creature with four legs, a large beak, eyes and the wings of an eagle.
- Ghosts on horses break windows in the dining hall and ride through the hall.
- Neville’s boggart is Professor Snape, who transforms into his grandmother.
- Professor Snape is a very dark, intimidating character.
Ron’s boggart is a giant tarantula, which runs towards him.
Another boggart is a giant cobra.
- Harry’s boggart is a Dementor, which Harry is unable to change. Lupin comes to his rescue and transforms it into a balloon.
- The moving and talking paintings on the walls at Hogwarts have been slashed and the ‘Fat Lady’ is missing from her portrait. All this implies that Sirius Black is inside the castle.
- Snape tells the students about werewolves who have no choice about their transformation during a full moon.
- During the Quidditch match, a very bad storm brews and Harry sees a wolf in the sky. The Dementors chase Harry flying on his broom. One opens its mouth revealing it to be full of blood, then it breathes on Harry who falls to the ground.
- Lupin tells Harry that Dementors are ‘the foulest creatures’ who feed on a person’s every happy memory.
- Talking skulls hang in the pub in Hogsmeade.
- Lupin teaches Harry the Patronus charm to ward off the Dementors. Lupin lets out a Dementor (actually a boggart) out of the trunk to help Harry practise, but Harry is overcome and faints. In his second attempt, Harry defeats the Dementor.
- Harry sees Sirius Black in a crystal ball when he is suddenly grabbed by Professor Trelawney who’s possessed by a man and starts speaking in a man’s voice. This scene is very scary.
- The executioner appointed to kill Buckbeat is dressed in black and is shown polishing a huge, curved executioner’s blade. Later he is shown swinging the blade.
- Dead ferrets hang in Hagrid’s yard, as feed for Buckbeak.
- Scabbers the rat transforms into a grovelling, filthy Peter Pettigrew.
- When Lupin changes into a werewolf, he bursts out of his clothes, growling and snarling, and appears to be in a lot of pain.
- The werewolf howls at the moon, then growls at Harry, Hermione and Ron, turning on them. Sirius turns into a wolf and fights Lupin off. The werewolf is huge and scary looking. Sirius lies injured on the ground with blood on his shoulder.
- The Dementors arrive to take Sirius away and try to drag him out of his body.
- Harry casts the Patronus charm and manages to overcome the Dementors.
- Sirius breathes ice and appears to have died.
Some older children in this age group may be able to handle the scary scenes in this movie, with parental guidance, but some younger ones could be scared by the following:
- The Dementors are particularly scary when they try to drag Harry and Sirius out of their bodies.
- Professor Trelawney is possessed by a man and talks in a man’s voice.
- Lupin turns into a werewolf.
Most children in this age group would understand that this is a fantasy movie but some could still be disturbed by the horror, supernatural events and violent scenes.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
There is some drinking of alcohol in the Dursleys’ home, in the pub at Hogsmeade and by the Professors at Hogwarts.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie contains infrequent mild coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a highly suspenseful, complex tale, based on the hugely successful book, with a plot that twists and turns along the way. The acting is very well done, as are the special effects. There is some humour in the movie, which lightens what is otherwise a very dark tale.
The theme of this movie is that good triumphs over evil, although Harry and Hermione do use violence to achieve their aims. Also the movie shows that sometimes people are erroneously convicted and should be given a second chance. You might like to talk about some of the values in this movie, such as friendship and courage. Another topic for discussion could be your own attitude to using violence as a way to solve conflict and the moral issue of hating one’s enemies.