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.