Accio Nostalgia: Harry Potter and the 20th Anniversary - Is the Reunion Worth Your Time?
A Review of the 20th Anniversary Reunion by HBO
Hollywood has never shied away from capitalizing on nostalgia. This became especially obvious in the last years when countless Spin-offs, Reboots, and Revivals got green-light one after the other. The most recent ones that come to mind are the Sex and the City Revival And Just Like That… and the upcoming HIMYM Spin-off with the creative title of How I met your Father.
I fear that HBO is now paving the way for another trend down the nostalgia road: the Cast Reunion.
Now, there has to be made a clear distinction between these small-scale Zoom Reunions that happened during the first big Lockdown due to Corona all over the Internet, and the massive productions with more than 90 minutes runtime that HBO has sponsored. First, it was the cast of Friends that returned for a - in my opinion - rather underwhelming (and very expensive) Reunion in the middle of 2021. But then, I was never big on the Show from the start; unlike Harry Potter which I have loved from the very beginning. Unsurprisingly, I could not resist and had a look at HBO's next massive (and also very expensive) Reunion special: Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts.
A look back at one of the biggest pop-culture phenomenons in the last two decades accompanied by the cast of the movies and a lot of nostalgia. But how does the wizarding world still hold up 20 years later? Is this special worth your time? And how do they deal with controversies the franchise had to deal with in the last few years? Let's find out.
She who should not be named
The Harry Potter Franchise has fallen out of a lot of people's grace due to the Author of the Series J.K.Rowling and her transphobic tweets that just keep coming and coming. However you may think about the situation regarding Miss Rowling and her work, HBO knew they could not ignore the negative press she had received over the last few years and had to deal with this somehow to keep damage at a minimum.
So, they did not include her. Or they tried.
J.K.Rowling appears a total of five or six times throughout the whole Special. Two times when talking about the casting process, a few times in the middle, and one time at the very end. HBO put a clearly visible banner at the right top whenever she appeared to make clear that the footage used was from 2019 and older and that nothing new was shot for this Reunion. As far as it appears she was not involved at all. However, she gets mentioned by several different people a few times who all try to stay very neutral.
I am not sure how the finances work in detail and in which way Miss Rowling profits from this Reunion but it is surely something to see an Author being excluded from a 20th year anniversary for something they created in the first place.
Expecto Patronum - What to expect
The Reunion is divided into 4 parts total:
- Movie 1&2 (the boy who lived) with a focus on the casting process and how it was to work with young children
- Movie 3&4 (coming of age) accompanied by a lot of funny anecdotes about the production and the relationships between the actors
- Movie 5&6 (the light and the dark) deals a lot with the dark side of growing up famous
- Memorial for the dead is also included right before the big finale to honor all the people who worked on Harry Potter and passed away since then
- Movie 7&8 (something worth fighting for) concludes the special as a reminder of what the cast and crew mean to each other and the last days of shooting
The structure is phenomenal. The Reunion mirrors the story of the source material perfectly as the topics that are covered and talked about by the actors become darker and/or sadder naturally just like the books and movies too changed in tone the more the story progressed. The memorial section is also very tasteful and overall just lovely put together.
Welcome to Hogwarts - Who is welcomed
They start you off with this big montage of all the people that came back and you think "Wow… How are they gonna give all these people a fair share of screen time?"
Of course, the big three - Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe - are in the forefront and focused on the most. Next in line are probably Helena Bonham Carter, Gary Oldman, Mark Williams, Ralph Fiennes, and, to my surprise, Jason Isaac, who all get time to shine with little parts to themselves and some comments throughout the movie; although only the first two get a one to one talk with Radcliffe.
That, by the way, is a big plus point for the Harry Potter Reunion! Instead of some random host for their get-together, it is Radcliffe himself who not only opens and closes the piece but also acts as some kind of host and has little chats with different actors where he asks some questions.
Anyway, said names are the big players in this Special. Other actors are there too but they get little to no screentime, only throwing in occasional one-liners or one funny anecdote if they're lucky. Tom Felton and Matthew Lewis probably have it the best of the supporting cast as they both get a small section dedicated to their characters.
Other than the actors, the directors of the movies came back as well and get time to talk about their individual influence on the movies and the work with the actors. Chris Columbus, the director of the first two films, somehow stands out the most as he had to not only cast the roles in the first place but also had to work with the kids when they were at their youngest and most inexperienced.
Accio Nostalgia - Is it worth it?
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is a spectacle. It is a high-value production for which a lot of old cast members returned. It is well structured, delivers stunning visuals and special effects, and is cut together nicely with Interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and actual movie scenes.
But it also has its faults.
For one, a lot of the stuff that is presented is probably nothing new to Harry Potter Fans. Some casual movie viewers may be surprised but the fans of the Wizarding World - the ones that this special is targeted at - will probably know about 85% of the stuff they are telling. All the behind-the-scenes stuff, all the funny stories, and jokes - I already had heard them. And I would guess that a lot of fans of the Harry Potter World have to. The only real new information came from the directors of the movies; I am so thankful they were there.
The other thing that really bothers me is the format. This massive, expensive HBO production. In the introduction, I mentioned the virtual Zoom Reunions that became a thing during Covid. I watched a lot of them to get through quarantine myself and while they did not look as fancy as Return to Hogwarts they had something else. Heart.
They felt genuine.
I do believe that Grint, Radcliffe, Watson, and all the others that were involved in creating this huge part of pop culture share a unique bond with each other forged by their shared experience. But their words can come out stiff, the conversations sometimes feel forced and the big sets can become cold and heartless very fast. In the end, these are paid actors to be on a set and talk. And for me, it often felt exactly like that.
I've seen Co-Stars on Zoom laughing and reminiscing, sitting in their cozy living rooms, and genuinely enjoying their time together as they saw the opportunity in quarantine and took it (Seriously, just check out Youtube).
These people did it because they wanted to. And while I am sure that the Cast of Harry Potter wanted it too, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth to know how overboard they went if they could have just done something much cozier and with heart.
I guess the Special is a must-watch for every Fan no matter what any critic says. Again, the team did an amazing job and it is definitely one of the better Reunions out there in my opinion. Go and watch it. Have fun! And if you want to, look a little bit closer at it.
See you for the Game of Thrones Reunion, I guess!