The World That Never Was: Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Back at the end of the 20th century (still strange to say), there was something brewing up with these children’s books coming out of England by an unknown author. By 1999, Warner Bros. had jumped on the chance to turn the first four books into movies. The first four books cost Warner Brothers Studio nearly $2 million dollars just to have the rights to. After the first film received massive attention and box office numbers, the Disney company jumped on board with the project, purchasing the rights for the film to television deal for the first film at a reported $1 million dollars. Soon after, it became a bidding war for the possible theme park rights to J.K. Rowling’s run-away success in the Harry Potter franchise.

Yes, it is true that Universal Studios owns the theme park rights to Harry Potter, and this is specifically a Disney website, but Mickey Mouse did have his gloved finger prints on the Harry Potter park at one time. In fact, Universal Orlando President Bob Gault had once said the Walt Disney Company did have the Harry Potter rights back in 2003. An misinformed Gault was almost correct. Disney was in very deep negotiations with Rowling but both sides were having a hard time agreeing. A very stubborn Rowling was not going to allow Disney Imagineers the right to change what she had created or to scale down what she thought was suitable for a Harry Potter theme park.

By 2007, Universal had garnered the rights to Harry Potter by giving Rowling almost everything she wanted while also compensating Warner Bros. for the visual representations of several film locations planned for the future Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Well, we know what happened after that. The Wizarding World opened in June of 2010 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and theme park attendance rose while Universal gained a 10% increase in profits. Now in 2012, they are expanding the Harry Potter area to make it even bigger, and have announced the same for Universal Studios in Hollywood.

So after years of conversations and proposals, why did J.K. Rowling pass up Disney and go with Universal Studios? Much like the film series, J.K. Rowling had stiff demands that she wanted to keep. (All of the actors in the films had to be British.) One story that had made the rounds a few years ago is that J.K. Rowling wanted Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to be of actual size. She figured that Disney had the money to do it, and she wasn’t going to scale down the key location for much of the series. That would mean Hogwarts would be as big, if not bigger, than the iconic Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom Park. Disney wasn’t fond of taking their icon since 1971 and posting Hogwarts in front of it just to make a few extra dollars.

Another problem Disney had was where to put the Harry Potter brand. Certainly Harry Potter didn’t fit in with the Magic Kingdom. Like the coming Avatar “land”, it may have fit into Animal Kingdom if Disney were to put the focus on much of the animals coming from the Forbidden Forest. I could see a proposal like this coming from Disney and Rowling shutting it down as she probably felt that Harry Potter deserved it’s own park.

As much as everyone talks about adding a fifth theme park to Walt Disney World, at this point, the focus needs to be on what already exists. Disney has done a great job over the last few years of reinventing the current parks it has. They are currently turning what many would call half-day parks into full day parks, and full day parks are becoming brand new experiences.

So Harry Potter ended up at Universal Studios instead of Walt Disney World. To that I say congratulations to Universal Studios as they needed something to boost their parks, and for Walt Disney World, I say it wasn’t worth it. Walt Disney World is doing great business with the franchises it already owns and they are doing what they need to be doing currently, reinventing instead of expanding.

How do you feel about the Wizarding World? Would you have liked to have seen it at Disney World even if that means cutting out the New Fantasyland and the future Avatarland. If it did come to Disney World, where would you have liked to have seen it? Maybe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Maybe it’s own park? Let me know what you think and I will see you all next time.

Josh Taylor


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Posted on March 21, 2012, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Disney is such a cheap greedy company. They didn’t want Hogwarts to be bigger than Cinderella castle? Pathetic, Spaceship earth is already bigger. I’m glad Universal obtained the rights WWoHP kicks the butt of everything at WDW, by being detailed & carefully thought out, instead of being tacked on & cheaply done like everything else at WDW. And Disney isn’t doing well, there profits dropped when WWoHP opened, & is why Disney is panicking to build the half-baked new Fantasyland & Avatarland, to complete with harry Potter Phase II. It’s Disney;s fault they lost out, & they are sore losers. They would have cheapened out on the HP theme park plans too if they had acquired the rights.

    • Sorry, but I disagree Nancy. Disney are famous for being new and inventive, while also keeping the originals of the company Walt Disney found. So, as Josh mentioned, why would they want to ruin the iconic’s of WDW by taking attention away from the Castle for Harry Potter? And don’t you think that if Disney really were in trouble, they would adopt HP because they knew it would be a huge success? They are obviously still doing okay if they are able to continue working on the basis of what they were founded. Also, WWoHP is only incredible because UO wanted the attraction to work and for it to work, they had to agree to 99% of J.K’s requests, and she wouldn’t allow anything less than what they’ve created. I’m sure if Disney had bought HP, it would have been just as good if not better than UO, because that’s all they’d be allowed.

  2. I think Harry Potter going to Universal Studios was the best thing to happen to both parks. Universal needed something to boost admissions and come out from Disney World’s shadow, and Harry Potter did that somewhat. Also, when I went to the Magic Kingdom 6 years ago or so, I found that it hadn’t changed much (if it all) from when I last went over 15 years prior. NOW, in response to Harry Potter (or so it seems), Disney is expanding Fantasy Land and adding some over much overdue new rides. Then, in response to the Magic Kingdom’s new additions, Universal is expanding Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure and adding it to Universal Studios (as well as expanding the Simpsons area in that park). In response to that, it’s rumored that Disney will be expanding Star Wars at Hollywood Studios (as well as possibly adding it to other parks) and possibly bringing Cars Land to Hollywood Studios as well. Now, additions to one park may not have anything to do with the other… But it certainly seems like it. If that is the case, then this is a battle in which the guests at these parks are the true winners!

  3. If the egos hadn’t gotten in the way, Disney could have created an entire “land” at Hollywood Studios that reflected Disney quality. Universal will never be as good as Disney and it shows in the one new ride created for the HP part of the park (the other two were already there and just rethemed). Now they are finally adding to it, but Disney has a lot of land that gives them an advantage. Beastly Kingdom would be cool.

  4. I just returned from all 6 parks. We did MK, AK, HStudios, Epcot, UNIversal and Islands of Adventure, and my teens favorite day was the day we did Universal and islands of Adventure. Probably because they are rideaholics. Harry Potter section is REALLLY cool. Kudos to Universal!!

  5. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing
    this post and also the rest of the site is very good.

  6. We just spent 3 days at Universal, much of it in the Harry Potter themed areas. It is very well done except for one thing … you can see some of the buildings housing the guts of the operation ( the metal sheds) from various parts of the park, even close to the castle at times. I don’t understand this oversight. Disney would never allow the reality to distract from the fantasy.

  7. I just got back, a few wks ago, from visiting all 6 parks with my 8yr old triplets (girls and boy) and while my triplets and I loved all the theme parks, my hubby would disagree, I must say that we had more fun at the UO parks because of the many, many rides it offers. Don’t get me wrong Disney’s parks are beautiful and amazing, but my girls have never really been that much into all the Disney Princesses and my husband and son only really enjoyed the Epcot Center, they also (of course being boys) loved the UO parks the best. I had been to Disney 20 years ago and I must say that EPCOT’s Discoveryland is in need of renovation while the World Showcase part is even better than I remember it. I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan and I truly loved, enjoyed and awed at the detail and beauty of TWWofHP, going from park to park in Hogwarts Express was amazing!! The detail they put into the ride was wow! The Marvel part of UO is also so fun! All in all I would love to visit all parks again.

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  27. I believe the real reason why Disney fell out of the running is because Disney didn’t want to give up so much control, nor did it probably want to give up designs to WB’s movies. Disney probably wanted to do the whole thing themselves and with little or no input from Rowling. Universal took a chance – it was a calculated risk – but they knew what they were doing. DIsney made sure not to make that same mistake twice: James Cameron is very involved with the Avatar land AK expansion, to a fault. Very interesting article, nonetheless…

  1. Pingback: Feature: 500 Posts – Josh’s Favorite Posts | Modern Mouse Radio

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