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The film that brought the wizarding world to life – from Hogwarts to Hedwig to Man-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – is now 20 years old.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” premiered on November 16, 2001, four years after the series’ first book hit the shelves.
Seven books, eight movies, several theme parks, millions of book sales, a Broadway show and several spinoffs later, the beloved franchise has left its mark on millions of smugglers. It has influenced everything from popular culture to children’s literature to classroom curricula.
To celebrate, we dust off our Pensieve to revisit NPR’s coverage of the very first film.
NPR’s critics called it a “copycat” of the book
Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan offered a mixed but generally positive review, focusing on the film’s extreme loyalty to the book.
“As great NFL offensive linemen signed to secure a valuable quarterback, every Harry Potter hire was made with one eye to ensure hordes of fanatical fans are not disappointed,” he said on air.
Turan described it as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, he said, “woe to those who would mess with that story.” On the other hand, even an impressive copy does not leave much room for risk-taking, objections or celebration.
Still, he applauded the filmmakers for building a visually magical world and cutting back on the long book without resorting to clichés or clumsy dialogue. And he praised the leading trio of child actors as “excellent” (though he mistakenly referred to Ron as Fred, and he also hid his highest compliments for Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid).
“Despite its copycat nature, what ultimately saves ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is what created it in the first place: [Author J.K.] Rowling’s unique imagination, “Turan concluded.” In the moments when the film allows us to share in Harry’s wonder, it lets us regain our own. “
It resonated with children and parents
Of course, critical recognition is not everything. What did young Potterheads do about the film?
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The late NPR correspondent Margot Adler was talking to a bunch of kids and their parents as they left a movie theater in Manhattan. She found that most people loved the movie, but loved the book more.
“I like the book,” said one young viewer. “It explained more.”
“I thought the book was very detailed and the film was very good, but it just made it a little too much faster,” said another.
Not everyone agreed.
“I like the movie better,” one viewer offered. “It was a little cool to see all the things one had imagined.”
And many respondents were impressed with the visuals: the wizard chess game, the vivid images on Hogwarts’ walls, and the actors bringing characters to life. One parent said Dumbledore looked exactly as expected, while a youngster said they had imagined Snape completely different.
However, some viewers were not impressed with the music, and Adler noted that it made sense: Most people did not have music in their head while reading the book.
As for parents in the audience, Adler said, the most common reaction was a sense of relief “that no matter what the Harry Potter movie was about, whether it managed to portray this or failed to portray it, it would not do the thing so many parents feared. “
“It would not destroy the tender plant that the Potter phenomenon had helped cultivate,” she explained. “Their children suddenly sat on the couch and read for hours, the family came together and read aloud.”
If you’re in the mood to take a spin even further down in your memory, listen to another piece from Adler: the first NPR story ever aired about Harry Potter, on All things Considered in 1998.
Among other gemstones, it includes a quote from a bookstore manager who wonders about having sold “hundreds” of copies, and Adler’s (exact) prophecy that the word “muggle” would take off.
This story originally appeared on Morning edition live blog.