True genius in the arts is when the creator of the work can fool those who look, or listen that they’re no longer a part of their world and instead have entered theirs. Universal Studios has done that and more with the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to their legendary Hollywood theme park.
Some years back Universal and Warner Bros. (the studio that holds the rights to the Harry Potter Films) made the unparalleled choice to team up and bring J.K. Rowling’s magical world to life, not just the films we adored but the written one behind it.
In 2010 they introduced the Wizarding World to the theme park-loving public at their leviathanic Orlando resort with a living, breathing Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, subsequently adding a larger than life Diagon Alley to the resort in 2014.
Having experienced both of them, I can say there is no theme park attraction more mesmerizing or as immersive as these magical park zones.
In 2011, they also announced plans to bring the Wizarding World to their venerable Hollywood location, in Orlando’s true rival for theme park dominance. Southern California theme-park market just got a whole lot more competitive because the time has finally come to unveil the Wizarding World in the nation’s largest market for entertainment.
This Tuesday I had the honor to attend the grand opening of this new attraction, and grand is an understatement. The night began with the red carpet crawl, which featured well-known muggle celebrities (Ed O’Neill, Billy Bob Thornton and Steven Spielberg) and erstwhile witches and wizards from the film series (Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch and James and Oliver Phelps).
What could be noticed immediately was that many celebrities and media members alike were dressed in the recognizable ensembles from the books. Robes, ties and scarfs colored in accordance to their respective houses (if that needs elucidation than I’m afraid this topic is already at a lost with you). The red carpet was replete with true believers, famous or not they shared an unwavering love for the magic of Harry Potter and his magical world, no cliche Hollywood superficiality could hide their excitement.
After the celebs, along with their families and retinues, made their way into the previously gated off Hogsmeade, we followed behind. After everyone was brought into the town square of the recreated village, the night’s ceremony began.
The lights when out and a choir of young Hogwarts students came out and sang a recognizable number from the films (toads doing the baritone and all), following this Universal Studios President Larry Kurzweil gave a wonderful, pyrotechnics-included thank you to the fans of the brand and extolled the creative behind the design of the attraction, introducing three other men who helped bring the Wizarding World to Life: Mark Woodbury, President of Universal Creative, Kevin Tsujihara, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment and Ron Meyer, Vice Chairman of NBCUniversal.
All three gave reverent speeches praising the steadfast teams behind the attraction and the fans who have patiently waited for this experience, Tsujihara also reminded us that the Wizarding World is getting an exciting addition this Fall with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them: the highly anticipated start to a series of prequels further expanding the film portion of Rowling’s multifarious brand.
The night’s final speaker was none other than Los Angeles’ Mayor Eric Garcetti.
This is the third time I’ve seen Garcetti deliver an oration for a Universal grand opening, which is further testament of the rapport between the theme park/studios and the city.
Some clever Harry Potter references here and an ill-fated attempt to use magic to fix the city’s egregious traffic, Garcetti gave a rockstar speech highlighting how crucial entertainment and tourism is in creating jobs and revenue for Angelenos.
After the speech portion of the ceremony was over, a truly magical moment happened when the Los Angeles Philharmonic and legendary composer/conductor John Williams performed a riveting medley of music from the films, after thunderous applause, Williams and his orchestra brought it home with a final medley with a light show adorning the life-sized Hogwarts and a fusillade of fireworks firing off.
If you have seen basically any major film like Harry Potter or Star Wars, you know how important, and influential, Williams’ score work is for films. Hum a memorable melody from a film and chances are it’s something he conjured, his music is as memorable and timeless as the films it scored. This was an indelible spectacle that really only happens once in a lifetime and me, and many others, had the true honor of witnessing it.
Following the incendiary finale, everyone in attendance was corralled into Hogwarts to experience the main ride of the attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
For those who haven’t experienced this attraction in Orlando or Osaka, the most important thing to recognize about this ride, and the things surrounding it, is that Universal Creative has a meticulous if concerning attention to detail. Even the wait line leading up to the ride itself is loaded with spot-on recreations of chattels and ephemera from the films and books (the fat singing lady towards the end of the wait is the real treat).
The ride, which I can only say is as magical as you’d expect it to be, even the most fastidious Potter fan will be left incredulous from this experience.
The same can be said for traversing the walking zone, you can enter and shop at actual Hogsmeade stores like the candy store Honeydukes or drink their own unique brews of beer at the Three Broomsticks. The fare offered here rebukes the idea that theme park food is shitty, all the food options in Hogsmeade are incredible. If a young (or old) wizard or witch is willing, they can purchase their own replicant wand (either a notable character’s wand or a unique wand based on its design from the books) and perform “spells” all over the village.
Hours of fun can be had in Hogsmeade, whether riding the main attraction or the exciting, ephemeral Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, or exploring the town and indulging in all of the magical things we love about the Wizarding World. Universal Studios not only brought to life a wondrous brand that garners new fans every year, but they have made us believe, if only for a short time, that the reverie of magic is very much real and be experienced year round.
The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade opens at Universal Studios Hollywood this Thursday.