Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hogwarts Moves to Florida

There's been word floating around about a Harry Potter theme park joining Orlando's family of parks in Florida for years, but now it's finally official. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open its gates in Spring 2010.

The New York Times' Brooks Barnes reports:

LOS ANGELES — The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the keenly anticipated Florida theme park, will open in the spring and allow visitors to tour Hogwarts, buy quidditch gear and drink butterbeer.

Universal Orlando unveiled some details about the park, a 20-acre addition to its Islands of Adventure property, on Tuesday in a Web presentation. The resort, co-owned by NBC Universal and the Blackstone Group, secured the theme park rights to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books in May 2007, but has been silent about specific plans until now.

The so-called theme park within a theme park will be faithful to the visual landscapes of the Harry Potter films produced by Warner Brothers, which licensed the rights to Universal after a flirtation with the Walt Disney Company. “We’ve tried to include something from every book,” Alan Gilmore, an art director for the films who is helping to oversee the park designs, said in an interview.

Read the rest of the story HERE

The Wizarding World will feature three main rides--Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and Dragon Challenge--as well as numerous stores where unique HP merchandise--like extendable ears--can be purchased. A complete replica of Ollivander's Wand Shop, complete with mantra "the wand chooses the wizard," will also provide for interactive shopping.

Cast members from the HP films have already gotten an exclusive early look at the park. Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy told Barnes his opinion of the theme park:

“We always say on set, ‘If this place was real, it would be absolutely fantastic' [...] To actually walk into this world and be able to touch it and taste it and smell it — well, it’s just going to be fantastic.”

While I agree with Felton that this will certainly be an amazing site to see and experience, I'm not quite sure it's coming at the right time. In the midst of a recession, theme parks have already seen a sizeable decline in attendence, and a park this specialized, while it will certainly bring in the HP crowd, will exclude a different audience and narrow the potential a little bit. I feel like this idea will either make it huge or crash and burn hard.

The Harry Potter wave has significantly died down, with the series complete for nearly a year and a half now, and Universal may have missed its moment. The films are obviously still going strong, grossing an average of $900 million worldwide (The Numbers box office stats), but more than $600 million of that comes from outside the U.S. Books and films are one thing, but a theme park in a single location, where much travel would be involved for many, is a horse of a different color.

I'm extremely interested to see what happens with the theme park, how it profits and how the Harry Potter franchise in general profits. I have a hard time imagining that it will foster many more book sales, as all visitors interested in such a park would likely have already read the series, but you never know.

Publicity is publicity after all.

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