It’s even bigger, better, funnier, and more exciting than the first one. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is pure magic.
Our favorite characters are all back and better than ever, from the odious Dursleys at Harry’s home on Privet Drive to the denizens of Hogwarts School: Nearly Headless Nick, Professors Snape, McGonagall, and Sprout, Headmaster Dumbledore, gamekeeper Hagrid, and of course our heroes, Harry, Ron, and Hermione. And there are some magnificent additions, especially Jason Isaacs, coolly cruel as Lucius Malfoy, father of Harry’s foe Draco, and Kenneth Branaugh, wildly funny as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart. Those who are looking for a meticulous realization of a beloved book and those who come to the theater knowing only the first movie – or even with no knowledge of Harry Potter at all – will find this chapter a thrilling, eye-filling, and utterly satisfying experience.
The success of the first movie has made it possible for the producers and directors to relax a little with this one. And the children have had a chance to become more comfortable on screen and just grow up a little bit, so they are able to bring more depth and subtlety to their acting.
As this episode begins, Harry is at home, longing to return to Hogwarts, even after he gets a warning from an odd little creature named Dobby, a “house elf” servant who tells him that someone is trying to harm him. Harry visits the Weasleys, and when he and Ron miss the train to Hogwarts, they fly there in an enchanted car, resulting some serious scoldings at school and, in the movie’s funniest moment, one from Ron’s mother, delivered via a piece of mail called a howler.
At Hogwarts, there are new classes and new challenges. Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy, is now his opponent on the Quidditch field. Harry is the only one who can hear a strange voice echoing through the halls. And he is in the wrong place at the wrong time when some very bad and scary things happen. It seems that there is a chamber of secrets that has not been opened for 50 years. Somewhere in that chamber is a dangerous creature, just waiting for the right person to let it out. Many people suspect that Harry is that person, and he wonders if they are right. The two adults Harry trusts most, Hagrid and Dumbledore, are removed from the school, and if someone does not stop the creature, Hogwarts may be closed for good.
As always, it will take Hermione’s research skills, Ron’s courage, and Harry’s heart to save the day.
And, as always, there is a wealth of detail and delight to entrance viewers so much that they will leave wanting more, even after a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. Every frame is filled with wonder, especially Diagon Alley and the moving photos and portraits.
Parents should know that the characters spend a lot of time in extreme peril. There are scary creatures, including lots of spiders (one huge) and an enormous snake that can kill anyone who looks in its eyes. Though it appears that some characters have been hurt or killed, all the good guys are ultimately fine. Children who are not familiar with the story, however, may be upset. There are also some gross moments when Ron’s spell backfires and he spits up slugs and when another misapplied spell leaves Harry without any bones in his forearm. Some children will have heard that the actor who plays Dumbledore, Richard Harris, has died, and will want to know what will happen to the character.
Like heroes in many epic stories, Harry struggles with the notion of his destiny and wonders how much is left to him to decide. Families who see this movie should talk about Harry’s fears that he is like the worst villain in the wizard world, Valdemort. What makes him like Voldemort? What makes him different? Draco and his father are concerned with “pure blood.” Who in history might have inspired that? What real-life events might have inspired the character of Dobby? And why doesn’t Hermione hug Ron when she hugs Harry? Families will want to discuss Dumbeldore’s comment that it is not our abilities that show what we are but our choices.
Families who enjoy this movie should see the first one. And of course, they should read all four Harry Potter books!