Australian Council on Children and the Media

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Not recommended under 11, PG to 15 (Violence; scary scenes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • a review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 6 June 2004.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 11 Not recommended due to violence and scary scenes
Children 11-14 parental guidance recommended due to violence and scary scenes
Children 15 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Horror elements
Length 141 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

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 which 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. He might have succeeded but for Professor Lupin, the Defence of the Dark Arts teacher, who overcomes the Dementor 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. Harry succeeds with Buckbeak but when Malfoy, a particularly nasty student whose father has unfortunately got great 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 grabbing 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 to find Ron unable to move with a broken leg. He tries to warn them that it’s a trap but he is too late and Sirius is there waiting for them. Harry runs at Sirius and nearly chokes him but is prevented by the arrival of Lupin.

Harry then learns from Sirius that it was not he but Peter Pettigrew who betrayed Harry’s parents. It was thought that Peter Pettigrew had also been killed but has in fact been living as Ron’s pet rat Scabbers for the past twelve years. Sirius makes Scabbers turn back into Peter and confess his crimes. Things start to turn nasty when at midnight Lupin turns into a werewolf, Peter turns back into a rat and runs away and Sirius also turns into a wolf. Sirius and Lupin fight and get injured and when Sirius turns back into himself 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 but they are both taken back to Hogwarts where Sirius is locked in the tower awaiting return to Azkaban. Dumbledore has a plan however which he explains to Hermione hoping to save the life of more than one innocent victim.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

The supernatural

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There are many violent scenes in this movie, including:

  • 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. Harry is breathed on by a Dementor and also falls to the ground.
  • While Harry is in his invisibility cloak he beats up Malfoy and his two mates for harassing Hermione and Ron.
  • Hermione threatens Malfoy with her wand then punches him—this is seen as heroic by Ron and Harry.
  • The wolf rushes at Harry, Ron and Hermione, dragging Ron into the hole in the Whomping Willow tree.
  • The Whomping Willow tree attacks Harry and Hermione, beating them violently with its branches and 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 sending him flying.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

Children in this age group would be scared by the horror and supernatural events in this movie and by the violent scenes listed above. The following would also scare children in this age group:

  • the Dementors, which appear as faceless, hooded and cloaked creatures that fly and float around and have really long, bony, pointed fingers. Children would be very worried about the Dementors trying to drag Harry, in particular, and Sirius out of their bodies.
  • Harry leaves home and is left sitting 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 which 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 often 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 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 has to step in 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 hers which implies that Sirius Black is inside the castle.
  • Snape tells the students about werewolves and how they have no choice about turning into one during a full moon.
  • The Quidditch match is held during a really bad storm and Harry sees a wolf in the sky. The Dementors chase Harry flying on his broom and one opens its mouth revealing it to be full of blood. It breathes on Harry who then 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 for Harry to practice, but Harry’s overcome and faints. On the 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 dressed in black is shown polishing a huge, curved executioner’s blade.
  • Hagrid has dead ferrets hanging in his yard to feed Buckbeak.
  • The executioner is shown swinging the blade.
  • Scabbers the rat transforms into a grovelling, filthy Peter Pettigrew.
  • Lupin changes into a werewolf. He bursts out of his clothes and growling and snarling, appears in much 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 is lying injured on the ground; there is 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.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group would also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Younger children in this age group could still be scared by the horror and supernatural events in this movie in particular:

  • the Dementors
  • the Dementors trying to drag Harry and Sirius out of their bodies
  • Professor Trelawney possessed by a man and talking in a man’s voice.
  • Lupin turning into a werewolf.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

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 violence mentioned in the previous section.

Product placement

None of concern in the film, but plenty of associated merchandise being marketed to children

Sexual references

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Use of substances

There is some drinking of alcohol in the Dursleys’ home, in the pub at Hogsmeade and by the Professors at Hogwarts.

Coarse language

Mild coarse language, such as "bloody hell"

In a nutshell

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.

Values parents may wish to encourage include:

  • friendship
  • courage.

Values parents may wish to discourage include:

  • violence as a way to solve conflict
  • hating one’s enemies.

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