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Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.
Review by Ryan Wilson

If the Holidays are quickly approaching that means it's Harry Potter season again, that, dare I say, "magical" time of year, when the Cineplex transforms into a soggy school for wizardry. The semi-annual films are perhaps the only events in the known universe that make me wish, ever remotely, that I were British and attending a boarding school.

I tend to give the Harry Potter franchise a free pass from criticism, and I'm not exactly sure why.

Maybe it's because I married a Harry Potter enthusiast, and it's just bad husbandry to remind her that these are children’s books, not to be taken too seriously. But this is the woman who has knitted me a "Harry Potter scarf," which I'm to wear often with my eyeglasses and my graduation regalia for her amusement. Also, this is the mother who, one month after the birth of our child, drew a thunderbolt on said child’s forehead to attend the bookstore release party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was released as a film last weekend.

So what good would it do now, at the beginning of the end of the Potter mania, to claw into a fictitious creation that has been such a force for good in the world? I'm speaking here about the lengthy novels, which have led so many kids away from the video screen and back to the printed word. Unless you're a religious fundamentalist or literary critic Harold Bloom, Harry Potter is a parent's hero of choice for our children.

Bloom's criticism is worth noting. His discomfort with the mania is that the writing itself is weak and clichéd, and that by celebrating J. K. Rowlings, we are in fact leading our kids away from better works of children's literature like books by James Thurber and Lewis Carroll. As Bloom puts it, "our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed-down."

This makes me wonder if the same argument can be used on the Harry Potter movies. Just look at the success of the film franchise. According to Entertainment Weekly, "the first six movies have earned more than $5.4 billion worldwide, making Potter the highest-grossing global franchise in history." But could all of this reaping, as Bloom suggests, take attention away from better quality children's films, both new and old?

I could see arguments made against the digital production of the Potter films, causing filmmakers to over-rely on such technologies in their storytelling, the same way computer-generated copycats steal from the Pixar productions. In addition, the potential source material for children's films may have become limited in the wake of Potter's success. Look no further than the bland Chronicles of Narnia series for an example of a lackluster handling of a children's fantasy series. Looking at it another way, however, the Potter movies could very well have opened the door for more fantastical films. Could Guillermo Del Toro's dark children's masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth have been financed without Potter's magic creating the market?

The influence of the Harry Potter films is well beyond the movie industry by now. When the Russians think that Dobby the House Elf is a jab at Vladimir Putin, you know the franchise has hit a global political nerve. A politician in Denmark even campaigned on his resemblance to actor Daniel Radcliff, who plays Harry.

I've especially enjoyed watching Radcliff’s maturation as Harry, if only because his Potter is just so humble. His attitude always seemed to contrast with so many other messages young people receive. In a culture that encourages youth to flaunt what little talent they have and to exploit the worst part of themselves for attention in reality TV shows and online, Radcliff’s hero exhibits humility, almost to the point where he wishes he weren't special.

So it's been nice having Radcliff’s Harry Potter around for the last ten years, perhaps because it's been a pretty dark ten years in our own universe and we long for some of Harry Potter’s movie magic. Lesser scholars than Harold Bloom have written about how Harry Potter’s world conjures up issues that parallel our times. The prison Azkaban, for example, has been compared to Guantanamo, and, of course, any good comedian can insert a Dick Cheney/Voldemort joke here.

Personally, I've enjoyed turning my own critical brain off when watching the films or skimming the books. Come June, when The Deathly Hallows concludes, I'll miss the free pass I've given the franchise. Not that the movies will be gone. They play endlessly on cable, which I cannot indulge in, other than to pick up my remote control and pretend it's my magic wand. Absurdia Turnioffia, I chant, and soon become my old critical self again.

Take 5 on Film is a production of Delta College's WUCX Q 90.1, airing every Saturday at 8:35 a.m. and again at 9:35 a.m. and produced by Jennifer Vande Zande. For more information, visit deltabroadcasting.org.

© Ryan Wilson, 2010