As expected, filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, whose sexually explicit coming-of-age drama Y Tu Mama Tambien heated up the art-house circuit earlier this year, has been tapped to helm Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.
Cuaron will take over directing duties from Columbus, who is bowing out to serve as producer after doing the first two films in the Warner Bros. franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the upcoming Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, scheduled to hit theaters on November 15.
"I've come to love all of the cast and crew on these movies and have completely immersed myself in this amazing and intricate story," Columbus says. "But, as I've made the decision to step into the role of producer for the third film, I am thrilled that we have found someone as talented and inspired as Alfonso to take over the reins as director."
Columbus will join producers David Heyman and Mark Radcliffe supervising the project.
Given Y Tu Mama Tambien's frank depiction of sexuality--the film is about two teen boys with raging hormones setting out on a road trip with an attractive older woman--parents may view Cuaron as a curious choice to conjure up a world dominated by wizards and fantastic beasts, Quidditch and Muggles and, worst of all, You Know Who.
But the Mexican filmmaker has plenty of experience working with children, having directed 1995's little-seen but critically acclaimed G-rated gem A Little Princess. He also knows what it's like adapting a literary classic, giving his spin to Charles Dickens in 1998's Great Expectations starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Besides, maybe Warners execs felt Cuaron was the perfect choice to help introduce Harry to those awkward teen years when he begins casting his own spells over the opposite sex.
"We have prided ourselves on fulfilling our promise to the millions of fans to remain faithful to J.K. Rowling's beloved books," says Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Warners' executive vice president of worldwide motion pictures. "We are certain that Alfonso's gifts as a director will sustain that commitment and continue to bring the adventure and fantasy of the wonderful series to life onscreen in even more compelling ways."
The 40-year-old Cuaron made his directorial debut with 1991's Love in the Time of Hysteria. He soon helmed an episode of Showtime's 1993 noir series Fallen Angel, before finding acclaim with Warner Bros.' A Little Princess.
"I am so pleased to be entrusted with presenting the continuing Harry Potter saga," Cuaron said. "It has captured the imagination of so many people, myself included, and I am so excited to join an amazingly talented cast and crew."
As written by Rowling, Azkaban is much darker in tone than the previous entries, with a plot focusing on one Sirius Black, a mass murderer out to get Harry.
Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who originated Harry, will be back in the title role in the third film, as will the core group of cast members led by Rupert Grint (Harry's red-headed best pal Ron Weasley), Emma Watson ( the studious and fearless Hermione Granger) and Richard Harris as wise Professor Dumbledore. Several new characters will also be introduced as well.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azhaban is set to go before the cameras in early 2003 and is scheduled to hit theaters in summer 2004.