If I could Avada Kedavra Every year since 2019, I have done it. Goodbye 2020. Say goodbye to 2021. Hello non-pandemic World where none of that ever happened.
Wishful thinking at its worst is to want Covid-19 to disappear. This is an acceptable (and common) offense. And it is exactly why “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” is what 2022 needs.
The reunion special, which was made possible by HBO Max’s midnight PST release on January 1, seemed like a gift from the producers after yet another difficult holiday season. It features more than 20 actors and directors from eight series. The special is set against the backdrop of various sets used for the movies. The Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms, Dumbledore’s office, the Burrow, the Great Hall and more are just as much part of the reunion as the stars are. We greet them like old friends, excited to see each other again.
For “Harry Potter” fans, “Return to Hogwarts” is a journey home. It is filled with nostalgia and comfort.
For “Harry Potter” fans, “Return to Hogwarts” is a journey home. It is filled with nostalgia and comfort. The film is a tearjerker right from the beginning, with the iconic soundtrack rising as the actors receive letters inviting them back at Hogwarts. But the reunion is more than just the franchise basking in its popularity; its new interviews and behind-the-scenes content manage to feel fresh and new—no small feat given the 20 years of media attention the movies have received since the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in 2001.
This charming glimpse behind the scenes special shows how the magic of movie making happens. Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Radcliffe meet up in Gringotts Wizarding Bank’s set to meet the animatronic goblins that are still hiding behind their bank desks. Chris Columbus, Director, recalls the moment when Richard Harris (Dumbledore from the first two movies), mistakenly believed the robotic Fawkes-the-phoenix was a trained bird. Rupert Grint, Ron and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) remember real lit candles falling from ceilings during filming. They burned through the fishing line making them appear to be floating.
Beyond the behind-the scene look at production, what really makes the special is the interaction between the actors as the actors reunite. “Return to Hogwarts” exudes warmth. Everyone will always remember their time on set with fondness, even if they don’t shy away from talking about the pressures of acting as a child or teenager actor.
Several of the interviews end in heartfelt “I love you’s”; to see that love reflected between the actors is powerfully uplifting, particularly in a time that has been dominated by isolation and social distance.
It’s evident how much the actors love one another, whether they’re laughing about casting auditions or their co-star crushes, or talking about the lasting impact of mentors. Much of the power of “Harry Potter” revolves around the series’s central focus on love. Love is a powerful, protective and eternal force, as illustrated in both the books, films, and movies. The conflict between Harry Voldemort and Harry boils down ultimately to love against hatred. In the reunion special, several of the interviews end in heartfelt “I love you’s”; to see that love reflected between the actors is powerfully uplifting, particularly in a time that has been dominated by isolation and social distance.
The pandemic has put us all through the collective wringer—mentally, physically and emotionally. When the clock struck midnight to ring in the new year, instead of feeling festive, I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of “I don’t want to go through this again.” It is hard to celebrate a new year when you know it’s going to hold much the same as the old: shutdowns, health scares, sickness, uncertainty. But “Harry Potter” has always been about finding goodness in troubled times. As the famous Dumbledore quote goes, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” As someone who played on Loyola Chicago’s Lumos Quidditch Team in college (yes, it’s a real sport!I’m open to admitting my bias. But I think “Return to Hogwarts” is part of turning on that light.
Watching the “Harry Potter” reunion made me realize I have been trying to look the world right in its miserable eye without blinking. It felt right. I felt that it was the right thing to do. My mental health was being harmed by trying to see the suffering around the world while refusing to allow myself a moment of respite. It took the reunion special for me to realize what I had been doing.
“Return to Hogwarts” gives us permission to put down what we are carrying and unabashedly engage with love, nostalgia, comfort and hope.
“Return to Hogwarts” made me feel like Dobby being given a sock and becoming a free elf. It allows us to forget about what we’re carrying and openly engage with love and nostalgia, comfort, and hope without having to worry about the disappointments and pain of the pandemic.
It tells us it’s O.K. It allows us to recall our favorite series, dear friends, and moments of connection in a movie theatre or book release line. These moments remind us that we can still have these amazing things in the future, even if they are not immediately.
While it is essential to face the reality of the pandemic in an honest and healthy way, it’s equally important to give ourselves some respite from it. Many of us grew up with the “Harry Potter” movies or books as a foundational part of our childhoods. The books bring back memories for others of reading with friends, family, or their children. “Return to Hogwarts” is a fun, touching, illuminative special, a joy and pleasure to watch for anyone who has loved “Harry Potter.” It’s a cure for new year blues, an antidote to cynicism and an intravenous infusion of love and nostalgia: in short, everything 2022 needs.
The special ends with a clip featuring perhaps the most poignant quote of the series. When Dumbledore asks Snape of his continued love for Lily Potter “after all this time?”, he may as well be asking fans about their enduring love of the series. The late Alan Rickman answers for all of us watching the 20th anniversary reunion when he responds, “Always.”