Director Chris Columbus, whose credits include Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, has assembled a wizardly cast and crew for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the long-awaited movie version of the children's book which has developed into a series of must-read best-sellers. Harry Potter, in case you've dropped out of the loop of late, actually brought children who disparaged reading into the habit of enjoying the written word. And why not? With over 100 million copies sold in 46 languages, author J.K. Rowling created an entire landscape in which the smart and amiable 11-year-old Harry could embark on such adventures as a tenure at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Harry, played by Daniel Radcliffe, endures his younger years as the ward of his bossy Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and his mean Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), who order that he should sleep in a closet under the stairs. It's a Dickensian childhood for Harry, as he longs to escape and find a better way of life. But, lucky for him, magic is on Harry's side. No sooner does he reach his 11th birthday than he discovers he is the orphaned child of wizards. Soon after, Harry heads for the Hogwarts School, where he finds his true cohorts, and indeed his true family.

Realizing that he has a talent for communicating with animals. Harry begins to surmise that he is destined to wield magical powers of his own. At Hogwarts, he also learns that he is something of a celebrity--the legendary infant whose parents were killed by the evil and powerful Voldemort but who somehow survived the attack with only a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. Befriended by the feisty Hermione (Emma Watson) and the insecure Weasley (Rupert Grint), Harry uncovers a plot to steal the potent, much-coveted sorcerer's stone that is housed within Hogwarts.

In bringing Harry Potter to the screen, filmmaker Columbus has been able to mine the talents of some wonderful British character actors: Richard Griffiths as bullying Uncle Vernon; Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia; John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick; Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, the gentle giant; Richard Harris as the wise Professor Dumbledore; Dame Maggie Smith as the imposing Professor McGonagall; Ian Hart as Professor Quirrell, teacher of the Defense Against Dark Arts; and Alan Rickman as the snarling Professor Snape. That cast alone should bring grownups into movie theatres as well as children, and Columbus is to be congratulated for that. The movie also boasts dazzling production design and visual effects, engaging performances by its three lead children, and a faithful script by Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys, The Fabulous Baker Boys). It's always exciting when a literary phenomenon becomes a movie phenomenon, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has all the ingredients to be just that.

--Ed Kelleher