Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is the type of TV special that you really only need to see once. It reunites Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Chris Columbus, Mike Newell, and Alfonso Cuaron, along with a plethora of Hogwarts’ best students from the Warner Brothers film series. All the stars reunite to speak about each of the eight films in the Harry Potter series. Each film is highlighted as a different chapter and a different stage of the central acting trio’s life. The beautiful thing about this particular documentary is that you get to see these actors in the environment you saw in the movies. Each actor takes the time to share anecdotes about their experiences in each film. It’s a relatively pleasant experience, even when considering a story of how one of the Weasley twins broke the ribs of a director.
The problem with a movie like this is that while the insight into how the films were made is interesting, none of what the actors are spending time telling you draws you more into the franchise. If anything, all the different conversations just give you a further insight into the dynamic these people had with each other. While I know that is the purpose of this retrospective, there is very little to be gained by watching these people talk about their experiences other than the early years when they were very young.
The one thing many will relate to is how actors were growing up as the audience was. The different issues that someone would deal with during puberty were had on a film set, so they really didn’t have much of an escape when trying to live an everyday life. They really only had each other. This is specifically true for the main three actors because they were the centerpiece of each film.
What surprised me most was that Rupert and Emma seemed to get along much better than Daniel and Emma. Clearly, they all like each other, but the director of this documentary spent a lot of time with those two in the discussion instead of the trio as a whole. Author JK Rowling was not featured in the documentary, as her controversial and very public thoughts on the trans community haven’t made her welcome to this reunion. Instead, she was featured in archival footage, which I think was a solid choice.
This retrospective didn’t lack heart. There are great scenes where you can see how supportive Grint, Watson, and Radcliffe support each other. Additionally, it was great to hear about their first time performing some of the difficult stunts in the films. It was amazing to get that inside track to how they made quidditch look like an actual game. The relationships made the whole series feel like a family, which seems to be the overarching theme behind the documentary itself.
Still, for all the fun behind-the-scenes stories that could be told, the documentary feels very paint-by-numbers, despite its 90+ minute runtime. You get some insight into what the actors experienced, but that’s as deep as the rabbit hole goes. I think if the documentary had taken more time to expand on the franchise’s effect on its fan base as well as more interactions with the entire cast, the reunion could have been more of a success. The 20th anniversary reunion may be great for longtime Harry Potter fans, but I won’t be waving my wand to make a return behind the scenes again anytime soon.