The Wizarding World Harry Potter has started to stride ahead for popularity, potentially overtaking the mouse. For many years Disney had literally written the book on Theme Parks. Many other players had come close but when it boiled down to the reason Disney were successful, the answer was story. Where Disney’s Magic Kingdom was created around Princesses, Villains a few movies related tie-ins. The other parks didn’t have their own story franchises to play with… except for Universal.
What made Universal stumble?
Universal Studios Florida was a fun park and had many attractions to see, but it wasn’t great. Their movie tie-in attractions were good the first time around, but by the forth time your excitement started to drain. I remember riding Kongfrontation and Jaws for the first time. Both were amazing attractions, but the reason these started to die out was the films were dated.
King Kong was released in 1976 followed up in 1986 with a sequel. Jaws Was released in 1975, Jaws 2 in 1978 followed by Jaws 3-D in 1983. All very popular and major successes in the movie world. When Universal Studios Opened in 1990 these franchises were very current and still pulling in a crowd. Add into the mix Ghostbusters, E.T. and Back to the Future and your unstoppable.
The Problem comes when the film franchises stop making sequels and are 10 years or more out of date. The fans have moved on and are looking for the next big thing. Where film technology has moved on in great leaps over the recent years, if your ride technology hasn’t your guests expectations won’t be met.
Why hasn’t Disney moved on?
Disney’s movie tie-ins were of a different nature. Most of the story they had created was their own and animated. The Animated productions were more timeless than a film produced in the 80’s. This meant the theming of the attractions were more focused on telling a story. In a more subtle way Disney had moved on, but by adding to their attraction. Older ride systems got upgrades, scenery got re-painted and re-invented, even stories got embellished. Most of all their stories were immersive. Disney had managed to build a theme Park were you felt part of the story whether you were on ride of just in the location. Universals “Theme / Story” was a film studio, so the majority of the park was flatter scenery leading to sound stages. True you got the feeling you were somewhere, but that somewhere could have been New York or San Francisco.
J.K. Rowling takes control of the Wizarding World Harry Potter.
While Universal Studios had moved on from their Production Studios Theme with the development of a theme park based around animation and fantasy. Their Islands of Adventure was amazingly great in terms of story development, but The Wizarding World of Harry Potter took it to Greatly Amazing. Famously J.K. Rowling wouldn’t simply hand over the Harry Potter brand with out having final say on its development. Without this mindset being present the current WWoHP would have been different for sure.
Marvel Super Hero Island (excluding The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman) could be in any theme park. The rides may still be popular, but they lack depth. The Incredible Hulk Coaster is thrilling and… Green, but it is just another coaster. How easy would it be to change it to a Green Goblin Coaster with a slight tweak?
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, added the true immersive environment that the brand needed. That feeling of being part of Harry’s World rather than being on the Film set is the difference. The multitude of shops selling items you vaguely recall from the story, glugging down cups of Frozen Butter Beer, standing in the shadows of Hogwarts, is the reason it works.
Will the Harry Potter Brand date?
The brilliant part about Universals deal with Harry Potter is that it was a phenomenal success before the films. As soon as the books were released they were best sellers. J.K. Rowling could have written them for life and they would have sold. This is where they have the advantage, Harry Potter was originally a successful set of books. This means that they are more timeless than the film tie-ins of the 1980s Universal Studios Florida had adopted.
Moving forward and what to expect?
Diagon Alley is well underway and from what can be seen the development won’t disappoint. The designers have researched and added realism to the facade of London. We looked at the Diagon Alley Artists Impression previously on Mr Tambo, and the detailing is good. By adding the Wizarding World Harry Potter Expansion into the Studios park, it is forcing visitors to revisit the ageing park. To ride the Hogwarts Express guests will need a 2 park ticket, which also make the Hogwarts Express the worlds first attraction based in 2 theme parks!
The technology used in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, really pushed the boundaries of what guests expected from a “dark ride”. When Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts opens this Summer, expectations are already set high. Although Universal haven;t really commented on what the attraction will be it is said to be multi-dimensional and multi-sensory. Early guesses have suggested it will be part simulation (large screen projection), part roller coaster and part dark ride.
Here is a link a HD video of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Attraction.
Going back to the opening question, Why the Wizarding Word is the most sort after attraction in Florida… the answer is story. If the story is strong enough and the environment is immersive you become part of the story and fill in the gaps yourself.
We’re excited for the opening, are you? Are you a Harry Potter fan? Will it live up to your expectations? Let us know below.