It’s 2022. If that’s not enough to send you into an existential tailspin about the passage of time, HBO Max is here to help. As a New Year’s Day treat, the streaming service has released Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts to remind you that your childhood was multiple decades ago. The special is a reunion on a massive scale, bringing together directors and cast members on the films’ elaborate sets to reminisce. Much has changed in the 20 years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone premiered; among them, author J.K. Rowling has become the world’s most famous person to repeatedly tweet and promote transphobic rhetoric. So how did Return to Hogwarts handle the J.K. of it all?
Lightly and sparingly. Rowling does not conduct new interviews in the special. The few times she appears as a talking head, a note in the top-right corner of the screen clarifies that these sound bites were taken from archival footage from the Warner Bros. studio tour in London dated 2019. In these snippets, she reflects on the casting process (“We couldn’t find Harry”), says her mind was blown when she visited the first Harry Potter set, and says the Potter-verse is “a beautiful world” to be involved with. There is also old B-roll of her writing in a café and waving to fans from a train. Rowling probably amounts to no more than 30 seconds of screen time in the feature-length special.
Rowling does occasionally get mentioned by some of the cast and crew. Bonnie Wright (Ginny) and Evanna Lynch (Luna) talk about being fans of Rowling’s writing, while Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) credits Rowling for inspiring young readers “who would never have lifted a book up in their life” if not for the Harry Potter series. Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films in the series, mentions meeting with her, and producer David Heyman attributes the film’s rich themes and characters to her writing.
Some of the most poignant moments of Return to Hogwarts are the transitions, which feature Dumbledore quotes from the books, such as “You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” It’s depressing to be reminded that the person who wrote that and the person who tweeted this two weeks ago are the same.