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Recipe for a classic scene: the Three Brothers in 'Hallows'

With her "Tale of the Three Brothers," Jo Rowling invented a parable that not only identifies the three Deathly Hallows of her final Potter book -- a super-potent wand, a stone with the power to revive the dead, a cloak of invisibility -- but also brings home the urgent need for all men to make wise terms with Death. Rowling said the tale was inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale" (from "The Canterbury Tales").

But the movie's animated version has more exotic sources: The shadow plays of Asia. As memorably depicted in Peter Weir's "The Year of Living Dangerously," they use intricate articulated puppets, lit behind translucent screens, to create haunting moral fables about characters aligning themselves with good or evil. The Potter filmmakers bring a 21st century digital version of shadow puppetry to Rowling's story, creating a sequence that anchors the film yet is transporting as a self-contained flight of fancy and work of art.

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As screenwriter Steve Kloves put it in our interview, even that bravura sequence evolved from the core strengths of the series: the gifted young performers and the urge to get to the essence of the narrative. (That's Kloves at left, in the photo above, with Warner Bros. president and COO Alan Horn and director David Yates, at the New York premiere on Monday.)

"I do remember how it came about," he told me last week. "We discussed it very early on. I always thought of it as in silhouette. And then someone had seen the work of this guy [animation supervisor Ben Hibon] and the idea was to have him do it -- and it really worked out wonderfully. We knew we had to tell that story full out. The reason I always saw it in silhouette was I knew that I wanted to hear Emma's voice and I knew it should not be occluded in any way by traditional visuals.

"I really wanted it to be Emma because she has a lovely voice and when you close your eyes she's very compelling and arresting. That story has a kind of amazing poetic feel to it, like a bedtime story but slightly scary. With Emma and the animation what could have been just a nice stroke was really captivating. To me it gives off an ancient, primitive storytelling thing. You feel the campfire in it, or shadows on a cave, and that's why I feel it's effective. It feels timeless, ancient."

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