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The Real Reason Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban Was So Dark

When you think about the "Harry Potter" movies, you probably remember that after the first two films, "Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets," the tone of the movies totally changed... and there's a very specific reason why.

During HBO Max's 20th anniversary reunion special "Return to Hogwarts," which chronicles the entire filmmaking process of the original film franchise, the reunion goes through the films chronologically, showing fans how the young actors leading the franchise — including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, who play Harry, Ron, and Hermione — grew up before our very eyes and the tone of the movies became more and more adult. Obviously, that shift into darkness kicked off in the third movie, "Prisoner of Azkaban," and the director just revealed how intentional that really was.

Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuarón, director of acclaimed films like "Children of Men," "Gravity," and "Roma," took the reins from Chris Columbus for the third film, helming the "Potter" franchise's first descent into darker territory. In "Return to Hogwarts," Cuarón explains exactly why he took this approach, and it makes total sense.

Prisoner of Azkaban's darkness is a metaphor for Harry's mental state

When "Prisoner of Azkaban" kicks off, Harry receives pretty unsettling news: Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), a convicted murderer, has escaped from wizarding prison... and seems to be hunting Harry himself. This is already a pretty dark storyline — and Sirius' story turns out to be something else entirely — but according to Cuarón, the darkness is also meant to represent Harry's mental growth as he turns thirteen.

"'Azkaban' is a coming of age," Cuarón explains in the special. "They're passing the threshold between childhood and the teenage years. In the first two, Harry is still a child. There is a greater optimism around the tone itself. Nevertheless, when he turns thirteen, there is a big cloud that overshadows everything around Harry. And we needed to convey that stylistically." This explains why so much of the film is shot against gray landscapes — a perfect setting for the dementors, who bring dark clouds with them and represent depression and sorrow and make their first series appearance in "Azkaban."

The "Potter" films and the reunion special are both available to stream on HBO Max now.