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Film Feature: Why Studios Need to Start Working on New Harry Potter Movies Right Away
CHICAGO – It might sound like sacrilege (or even sound redundant) to say this, particularly on a day that sees the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two,” but I just have to say it - Daniel Radcliffe can’t be Harry Potter forever.
Granted, at the moment, he IS Harry Potter, the living physical representation of the boy wizard, and he always will be for a generation of film and literary fans. But that doesn’t mean that Radcliffe’s sweet visage will or even should be the only representation of the Boy Who Lived for generations to come. Radcliffe, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, even the iconic design work by Stuart Craig – they’re pop culture icons, to be sure, for now, but eventually, culture will move on. We’ll forget their impact, they’ll come across as dated or overly familiar, and Potter fans, down the road, will start craving something different.
It’s hard to see now, but the story of Harry Potter is far, far bigger than a few Warner Brothers films and a theme park. A perfect example is J.K. Rowling’s recent announcement about “Pottermore”, an upcoming online home for the series, which will blend e-versions of the text and fan interaction with whole new swaths of storytelling and back history from the Potter-verse. It’s less of a home for seven individual novels and more of a home for the Harry Potter WORLD, a multifaceted storytelling universe that more closely resembles a MMORPG than anything else.
While the Harry Potter films are amazing movies, they’re, by their very nature, linear and a bit confining. They’re solo adaptations of each individual Potter novel and, as such, until director David Yates took over and the Potter novels concluded in 2007, it was hard to treat each movie as a part of a series. The filmmakers couldn’t anticipate story developments, they couldn’t plan out character arcs, because, simply put, Jo Rowling wasn’t finished baking the world yet. But, now that the world is complete – fresh out of the oven with the beginning, middle, and end in place – it opens up a whole new vista of storytelling opportunities that, frankly, weren’t available for the Radcliffe movies.
And when you look at the public appetite for the world of Harry Potter – the theme parks, the museum tours, “Pottermore”, fan fiction, wizard rock, the legions of imitators – I think you can see that there’s a definite demand out there for more. And, while I don’t think that means we should bully Jo Rowling into writing more Potter books – leave her be, she’s given us enough - I do think it means we have to re-examine how long we’re willing to take the Radcliffe Potter movies as the one and only canonical Potter films.
So, though I realize that Dumbledore’s corpse is still warm and scalpers are still gleefully counting the money they made off midnight screening tickets for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part Two”, I honestly do believe that Warner Brothers should already be working on the NEXT series of Harry Potter movies. The work needs to begin now. And, in the best tradition of internet armchair quarterbacking, here are my three main suggestions – my own modest proposal – on how a new Potter movie series could step out of the shadow of the Radcliffe films and actually work.
1. IT HAS TO BE ANIMATED
As I mentioned, Daniel Radcliffe has become synonymous with Harry Potter and the idea of casting someone else in the role – while Radcliffe is still spry and dancing down Broadway – seems like the definition of the phrase “too soon.” Recasting a character like Spider-Man is no problem because Spidey has been around for decades and Tobey Maguire is only one of MANY representations of Peter Parker that the world has seen since the webslinger first appeared in 1962. But, aside from Radcliffe, the book illustrations by Mary GrandPré and Jason Cockcroft, and some great fan art, there have simply not been that many visual representations of Harry Potter. A vast, vast majority of licensed Potter art is clearly based either on young Daniel or the novels’ cover illustrations.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Photo credit: Bloomsbury
Maybe it’s because the movies came out while the series was still being published, but the Warner Brothers cast has seemingly become the default visuals for the Potter books as a whole. And that’s unfortunate – not because the movie visual aren’t cool, but rather because the Potter world that Rowling created is so vivid and packed with details that it would be a shame to limit it to ONE interpretation. The Potter universe needs to be opened up to a wider canvas of artistic interpretations.
And animation definitely opens up a whole new world of visual possibilities. It means you wouldn’t have to worry about comparing Radcliffe’s Potter to the Potter of some sparkling new UK ingénue – if the next Potter was animated, those comparisons would largely be rendered moot. Also, animation design tends to hold up longer than live-action films – if it’s done right (i.e. Disney’s classic fairy tales) – so, an animated Potter series might be the “timeless” option that will help us span the years until another live-action Potter movie is mounted. Because, let’s be honest, doing another live-action Potter flick anytime in the next 10 years is a terrible idea. What else can be done in live-action with the Potter stories that hasn’t already been done in the Radcliffe movies? Animation, again, unleashes a limitless horizon of visual scope that – until James Cameron the 4th invents 5D movies – really can’t be matched by live-action.
There are two other reasons why animation would be the preferred medium for the next Potter movie – one creative, one financial. In terms of creativity, after seeing a very human, very real-world-based film version of the Potter novels, I’d love to see something wilder, more out-there, more impressionistic. For example, take a look at the concept images for the upcoming Guillermo Del Toro-produced, stop-motion-animated “Pinocchio”. Artist Gris Grimly’s new designs for the wooden puppet are breathtaking, miles away from the Disney version, but undeniably the character of Pinocchio all the same. I’d love to see someone do the same thing for Harry Potter. And, in terms of financial benefit, an animated version would prevent the next Potter film from getting into a pointless budget competition with the previous series (“Their ‘Chamber of Secrets’ cost $200 million? Ours cost $400 million! So ours must be better!”) AND it gives Warner Brothers the added bonus of not having to worry about paying for likeness rights, a benefit that saves them some corporate cash and allows the characters to evolve artistically while not being tied to the chiseled physiques of British equity actors.