When director Chris Columbus departed from the Harry Potter franchise after the first two films (The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets), the series – based on the bestselling books by J.K. Rowling – lost a little bit of its onscreen storybook magic.

However, despite the loss of pleated, over-pressed costumes and the smallest of details spread across every nook and cranny of Rowling’s wizarding world, the franchise – with its third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – gained a new perspective with director Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron gives the third installment in the series a darker, grittier edge; one that adequately mirrors the storyline’s meatier material and maturing core group of characters.

Cuaron, perhaps best known for helming the saucy, 2002 Spanish-language film Y Tu Mamá También (who also has a children’s credit to his name with A Little Princess), brings an angst-tinged landscape to The Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s much more mature, as is the story’s antihero title character (Daniel Radcliffe), as he heads back to Hogwarts for his third year of wizard training.

On his way there, though, he learns that the man believed to have aided the evil Lord Voldemort in murdering his parents (Sirius Black, played by the ultra-versatile Gary Oldman) has escaped from the heavily guarded Azkaban prison and is looking to kill Harry.

A lot of surprise twists await and, with Cuaron at the helm as well as a sparser, danker, more open landscape as a backdrop for most of the action, The Prisoner of Azkaban proves to be the best film in the Potter series so far.

The special features on the 2-disc DVD, released Nov. 23, are geared more toward kids than adults, with extras that include memory games, special quests, self-guided tours and a DVD-Rom boasting magical trading cards. However, Azkaban, for just the movie experience itself, is worth a place in your DVD collection.

DVD Grade: A-