One of the best lines in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is brief, but it does a lot to explain why these films are as good as they are – which, by the standards of kid’s entertainment, is very good indeed. Long-standing friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and title star Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) are feuding, and Ron has asked third-party Hermione (Emma Watson) to convey some information to Harry, even though Ron and Harry are standing about 20 feet apart. Hermione explains how someone told Ron that Hogwarts gamekeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) wants to see Harry, and Harry snaps back how Hermione can tell Ron that … and Hermione explodes with tears, crying out her frustration at how foolish her dear friends are being and the hurt it’s causing: “I’m not an owl!”
If you’ve read or seen any of Harry’s earlier sagas, the line doesn’t just make sense (in Harry’s world, letters between wizards are delivered by enchanted owls); it actually moves you. It’s a brief exchange that speaks to the carefully-crafted mythology and world screenwriter Steve Kloves has managed to flesh out even while paring down J.K. Rowling’s increasingly-large books. It also shows how well the actors who’ve been with the series from the start are able to sell a piece of dialogue that mixes real feelings with this world of fantastic wizardry. The Potter saga works so well because it manages to mix the fantastic and the real, combining natural teen social anxiety with supernatural mortal peril, mixing the hurts of adolescence with the wounds left by curses and claws. Directed by Mike Newell, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire may not be anything new, nor is it as distinctive as Alfonso Curarón’s take on the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, but it’s a remarkable piece of teen entertainment that has scares, laughs, fantastic visions and a real heart.