April 21, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a summer movie we can’t wait to see


WHY WE CAN’T WAIT We’ve had to endure more than 18 months without a new ”Potter” picture. Plus, we’re intrigued by the choice of Alfonso Cuarón (”Y Tu Mama Tambien”) as director.

THE PREMISE Renegade wizard Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) escapes from Azkaban prison and comes looking for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, above right, with Rupert Grint and Emma Watson), now in his third year of study at Hogwarts.

SOURCE The third book in J.K. Rowling’s projected series of seven ”Harry Potter” novels

THE BACK STORY Chris Columbus, who directed the first two ”Potter” movies, stepped back and took a producer’s title this time. Successor Cuarón may be best known for his racier recent work, but he also directed the underrated 1995 kids’ film ”A Little Princess.”

BURNING QUESTION Will Cuarón’s vision, darker and more freewheeling than that of Columbus, scare the kiddies and alienate the fiercely protective ”Potter” purists? And will fans embrace a new Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, taking over from the late Richard Harris)?

COME FOR A streetwear-clad, angry, ”punk rock” Harry, (in Radcliffe’s words)

STAY FOR New additions to the Hogwarts bestiary — Dementors and hippogriffs, oh my!

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