Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 11/16/01
Director: Chris Columbus
Music: John Williams
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, cameos by Warwick Davis and John Cleese

Delightfully enchanting! Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is an unassuming young boy who is destined to do great things. On his eleventh birthday, he manages to escape his awful aunt and uncle when he is invited to attend Hogwarts School For Wizardry And Witchcraft. There, he meets new friends and learns the art of magic. He also stumbles onto a devious plot about someone trying to steal the mystical Sorcerer's Stone, so he and his friends try to stop it. The perpetrator is also conveniently connected to Harry's past as well.

Like any really good fantasy movie, this one succeeds in creating an entire magical world, complete with its own rules and mythology (much like "Star Wars" (1977) ). The story also follows a classic fantasy formula of an orphan who escapes his wretched existence in order to fulfill his destiny (again, much like "Star Wars"). At first I didn't think I would like the character of Harry Potter, but he's your classic hero - unassuming, pure of heart, noble, sympathetic, tragic, humble, and reluctant to accept his own importance. It's difficult not to like him. His friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are wonderful, and the group dynamic of this trio of misfits is delightful and heartwarming. The casting is perfect and everyone does a fantastic job. Daniel Radcliffe is amazing as Harry, and Emma Watson is adorable and utterly charming. John Williams' music score is right on the money, with his typically big, epic, and melodramatic sound. The visual effects are superb, and the magical world of Hogwarts truly seems alive and full of wonder. Unlike many special effects films in recent years, the effects in "Harry Potter" are effectively used to enrich the film's lush cinematic world, instead of just bringing attention to themselves. Few directors understand the subtleties of making special effects work for a film rather than against it, and director Chris Columbus has done an admirable job of bringing everything together. The film is a tad long and tends to drag here and there, but the atmosphere is so intoxicating that it doesn't really matter.

Even with the delightful characters and wonderful visual effects, what really makes the film work is its mature and no-nonsense presentation. The film takes itself very seriously, making it easy for the viewer to become immersed in its world. The children in the film are treated as respected individuals, and the film never talks down to them or to the audience. Much to its credit, the film is completely free of silly sidekicks, stupid pratfalls, goofy characters, inane dialog, distracting musical numbers, inappropriate pop music, and fart jokes. The film is thoughtful and intelligent, and never stoops to sight gags or cheap laughs. It's frightening to think that the film could have easily been ruined by the inclusion of a Jar Jar Binks character or some cute furry mascot that always gets the gang into trouble. In its presentation, the movie actually feels like a book from my childhood, like the works of Roald Dahl or William Steig. If you loved books like "James And The Giant Peach," "Charlie And the Chocolate Factory," "Dominic," "Abel's Island," and "The Phantom Tollbooth" as a child, this movie will fill you with wonder and truly make you feel young again.