The factors responsible for insanely successful franchises like Harry Potter
are so varied and delicate that its tempting to use Disney-speak and vaguely describe them as magic. Yet one of the Harry Potter worlds great appeals is that its magic isnt vague its learned through classes and books, like Spanish or how to cook a roast. So in honour of the boy wizard, soon to grace our big screens no more (or at least until 4D catches on and the movies get a make-over), I shall try to unpick the magic formula that can account to some extent for the franchises success.
Being In A Club
Harry Potters main characters, and a large proportion of its fans, are at an age when belonging is overwhelmingly important. Whether its to a school, a class, or a group of friends, all teenagers have to find some banner to fly under if theyre going to survive to adulthood. The institutions of Harry Potter - Hogwarts, Gryffindor, Quiddich Teams - are uniquely attractive and tangible groups to belong to. Other fantasy movies have cool clubs. Who wouldnt want to hang around in the Fellowship of the Ring? But unless you have super fighting skills, and preferably ear attachments or weighty facial hair, its a difficult club to imagine yourself in. Even before social networking could account for gimmicks spreading like wildfire I remember taking the online quizzes to see which House I would be sorted into at Hogwarts (and fixing my answers so Id get Gryffindor). Cinematically these clubs work brilliantly. Banners and symbols abound in Harry Potter; right the way through we know who to fear and which flag wed want to wave.
GSOH (i.e. Good Sense of Humour)
Harry Potters good humour rescues it from gloom and makes it accessible to a much wider audience. At about the same time that Harry was moving into murkier waters in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
, two comparable fantasy movies were launched. Both The Golden Compass
(2007) and Twilight
(2008) took a more adult, foreboding tone. When compared to the genuinely comic scenes and characters of Harry Potter, these movies, in their persistent tone of anxiety, seem two dimensional, and this limits their audience to (in the case of the The Golden Compass) people who hadnt read the book or (in the case of Twilight) romantics with a similarly anxious undercurrent. Bolstering its fantasy portfolio this year Warner Brothers launched Red Riding Hood
, a dark and romantic retelling of the fairy tale. In a similar vein, 2012 will bring us various Snow White
films; another fairy tale altered and inflated to carry more human complications. Stylish and gorgeous these films may be, but again they are carried by fewer, more angsty emotions. Any film to have a chance of replacing Harry Potter will have to allow space for levity.
Not Too Romantic, With Some Kick-ass Women
Just look at the dvd cover for Twilight
. The characters are so insipid it looks like they barely have the strength to hold their heads up for the photo. Bella basically exists to pine and be rescued. In comparison it is highly unlikely that either Harry or Ron would survive if Hermione didnt constantly have their backs through foresight, research, bravery, and being well clever. There are plenty of other non-stereotypical strong women in the films too; one of the most satisfying lines of the final film is when Mrs Weasley takes out Bellatrix with the line Not my daughter, you bitch! Though Emma Watson
may think that her and Rons kiss is the most anticipated kiss in history
one of Harry Potters strengths is that it isnt too weighed down by romance. In fact whenever the films did loiter on romance they lost strength, like in Deathly Hallows Part One
where Ron wastes precious time mooning about being jealous over Harry and Hermiones relationship. Romance does feature but its much more in line with the who fancies who excitement of adolescence, rather than that weighty emotions that can literally suck the life out of a plot. Its much more about friendship, and that makes it more accessible for more ages.
One great appeal of fantasy is where the fantasy world overlaps our own. Harry Potter is a master of intertwining our world with the world of magic. Wizards grow up alongside us, walk along the same streets, and catch trains from the same stations. How many 10 year old kids dream, right up until the end of the summer holidays, that theyll receive the letter from Hogwarts informing them that theyre magic? And the plot is braced by the wizards relationship with muggles. Like Pratchetts Discworld, the infrastructure of Potters wizarding world is a delightful parody of our own. Newspapers and politicians cause the same amount of trouble, while school and home lives can be easily related to. Few fantasy adventures have trodden that divide between worlds so deftly. Put those elements together, dress them up differently, and you might have a shot at replacing the great H.P. Ah who am I kidding? We all just want a cool scar and a wand.