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Steal a glimpse and/or glimpse some steel at the "Harry Potter" construction site

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Steal a glimpse and/or glimpse some steel at the "Harry Potter" construction site

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Harry Potter fans rejoice! Construction of Hogwarts Castle is finally, officially underway at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure.

Though site prep continues in the "Lost Continent" section of that theme park ...

 Photo by Jeff Lange

... If you look to the right of those enormous gates next to "The Flying Unicorn" 's exit ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

... you'll see the first pieces of steel that were welded together last week as "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" finally entered the vertical phase of its construction.

Photo by Jeff Lange

According to Universal insiders, this bare framework is just the start. In the weeks and months ahead, literally thousands of pieces of metal will be hoisted up & then bolted into place. As a full-sized recreation of Harry Potter's alma mater is built at the southwestern border of IOA's "Jurassic Park" section.

Speaking of "Jurassic Park" ... In order to give IOA visitors a smoother transition as they move from that portion of Islands of Adventure to "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," the folks from Universal Creative will be actually creeping in JP's borders ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

... so that there'll then be a proper buffer zone between J.K. Rowling's oh-so-English fantasy world and Michael Crichton's dangerous dinosaurs-on-the-loose environment.

And as for Ms. Rowling ... Over the past few weeks, some very interesting stories have begun filtering out about her dealings with Universal. To be specific, the IOA inspection tours that J.K. made before she finally agreed to award "Harry Potter" 's theme park rights to that corporation.

As I understand it, while it was reportedly the extensive detailing found in the "Lost Continent" 's Enchanted Oak Tavern that convinced Ms. Rowling that Universal Creative were the folks who could bring Hogsmeade to life ...

... it was actually Seuss Landing that sealed the deal for J.K. Particularly the heroic effort that Universal put in to please Audrey Geisel AKA Dr. Seuss' widow.

You see, for years various companies had attempted to acquire the theme park rights to Dr. Suess' books & characters. But Audrey had repeatedly turned these offers down because ... Well, Mrs. Geisel believed that none of these firms could ever do her husband's drawings justice. They'd never be able to match Theodore's wit and whimsy.

Copyright 1999 Universal Escape

But Universal wouldn't take "No" for an answer. More to the point, every condition that Audrey set, they then agreed to meet. Every request that she made -- be the placement of resturants & attractions right down to the color of individual street signs -- was honored.

So when Mrs. Geisel said that she wanted to borrow a page from "The Sneetches and Other Stories" and actually have this land built around a North-going Zax and a South-going Zax ...

Copyright 1999 Universal Escape

... That's exactly what Universal did.

So when J.K. Rowling saw how hard Universal Creative had worked to make Audrey Geisel happy, she knew that these folks were the right people to translate the "Harry Potter" stories & characters into a theme park setting.

Mind you, that's not to say that there weren't a few bumps in the road before Rowling finally agreed to sign that contract. Like that time that Universal Security had to be told NOT to arrest the man who was climbing the hill behind IOA's "Flying Unicorn" ride.

You see, that man was Stuart Craig. The three-time Academy Award winner who has designed all of the sets for the "Harry Potter" films. And Stuart was just climbing that hill to see if he could find the proper spot to build Hagrid's cottage.

Speaking of which ... "The Flying Unicorn" is expected to shut down sometime in September of this year. So that this IOA attraction can then be transformed into "The Flying Hippogriff." More to the point, so that work can finally begin on Hagrid's cottage.

Anyway ... That's the latest construction news on "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter." Your thoughts?

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  • This is all very exciting. I can't wait to see the finished product.

    If a may, here's a link to a part of a documentary in which Rowling has a meeting with the creative heads of Universal.  The related portion starts at 6:44 into the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9_qMHC2Zv0

  • This sounds like Universal's rather than Mrs Geisel's spin on the events.

    "for years various companies had attempted to acquire the theme park rights" - So Disney wanted the rights? Maybe, but they really wouldn't be willing to pay much. So that leaves Busch/Sea World - not really a good fit unless you want red and blue fish swimming with Shamu, Six Flags and Cedar Fair that aim more towards teens, and maybe some overseas parks. Just don't really see a bidding war erupting over these characters.

    The other main difference is Mrs Geisel isn't really known for her high standards of quality - Jim Carrey's Grinch and Mike Myers' Cat in the Hat were more a result of "where do I sign ?" as opposed to being concerned about any sort of character legacy.

    Ms Rowling went with Universal to be a big fish in a small pond (which may have been a Dr Seuss title). Universal's marketing budget will revolve around Potter & Co, whereas the Disney promotion would have been: "well we got Potter over here, and we got a new parade in this other park, and there's a chimpazee stunt show in the Animal Kingdom, in this our fourth year of a million dreams - the year it finally makes sense to our guests."

  • "Ms Rowling went with Universal to be a big fish in a small pond "

    Well, the phenomenal international success of the Harry Potter books (and movies) certainly qualifies 'Harry Potter' as a whopping big fish in a big pond. If Harry Potter had been aquired by Disney, you can bet they would have marketed this big fish very loudly and enthusuiastically.

    You might be right that Universal is a much smaller 'pond' in the theme park universe compared to Disney, but Harry Potter is certainly going to increase its status by an enormous amount. (I absolutely looove Disneyworld and all things Disney, by the way.....But this Harry Potter World is the first themepark to really catch my attention.)

  • My wife and I have purposefully put off traveling to Orlando to vacation until the Harry Potter park is finished. Good to know things are proceeding nicely.

  • Actually, Re: Dr Suess, the ideas always sounded great. Its the follow through that didnt work.

    The Grinch and Cat in The Hat are great movies to look at, I.E. Pause, look at pictures, etc. But the concept didnt quite work. And Suess Landing is indeed a site to behold. Or.. it was back when IOA opened. Its current state though?

    I was at IOA a few weeks ago. The playground in Suess landing is pathetic. most stuff is closed off, the whole island has chipped paint, and obvious cosmetic problems here and there. The characters you can meet lack something.... Cat in the hat is a great dark ride, but the rest... typical carnival themed rides. i just cant imagine that island being a part of the inspiration JK had to sign the papers.

    Especially if she toured Suess Landing with IOA. And then toured Tatooie at DHS, or Poohs Playground at MK, or walked through the que of Everest. Its obvious to me, that Disney does it better. (others disagree and thats ok)

    Im just expecting Universal to deliver a beautiful looking project that they cant keep up with (maintance wise) with mediocre themed "cutting edge" attractions and re-themes, and characters that are obvious rejects from the Disney auditions.

    Thanks for the insightful article.

  • All this talk about how very fussy Ms. Rowling is reminds me of the stories about the irascible P.L. Travers when Disney was making a movie of her book "Mary Poppins". She'd babble on about how she hated animation, did not like any of the music being written and demanded that Mary's skirt be made by a certain seamstress in London. Thank god Walt didn't listen to her. It's a pity a far-less talented writer (Rowling) can wrap corporations around her little finger. It's as if she fancies herself the queen of fantasy, when in reality she's a just very lucky mediocre writer with spectacular timing. Her books' onscreen versions succeeded as a film series because they benefited greatly from special effects, which succeeded in bringing her world to life in a way her own wooden prose could not. What's especially ironic is that, now that the Potter series is over, I find the books unreadable. Once you know what happens, that's it, the literary cupboard is bare. Whereas I've reread Tolkien's "Hobbit" numerous times and also nearly every one of Lewis' "Narnia" books - their original imaginations (as opposed to Rowling, who stole from everybody) and rich imagery keep me coming back to them again and again. I doubt her books will stand the test of time, for all her monetary success.

    BTW - since Rowling is so "dedicated" to progressive social tolerance of minorities, will there be a gay bar in that "Wizarding World" for wizards like Dumbledore, whose wands swing the other way? ;)

  • Gigglesock> The upper level of the Leaky Cauldron will be open only for USOrlando Gay Days although there's several themes they're considering. The Headmaster's Office is one. Colin's is another, with the walls all covered with pictures of Harry. Or maybe just a graveyard, since all of the known and likely gay characters in HP ended up dead. :P

    JKR has said homosexuality isn't any more stigmatized in the wizarding world- even the likes of Lucius Malfoy wouldn't mind. I find that hard to believe though, with all the Nazi overtones of the pureblood movement and Molly Weasley's issues with having a French daughter-in-law.

  • "BTW - since Rowling is so "dedicated" to progressive social tolerance of minorities, will there be a gay bar in that "Wizarding World" for wizards like Dumbledore, whose wands swing the other way? ;)"

    Gigglestock, it is perfectly fine if you do not like the Harry Potter books or want to question their literary merits (I, personally, find the Narnia series very problematic...but to each their own). But I find your comment offensive and insensitive. Yes, 'social tolerance' of minorities is actually a GOOD thing.

    You also seem to imply that there is someting objectionable about having a gay character in a children's fantasy series (or theme park). It is attitudes like that which reinforce the belief that  gay people are abnormal and should be the subject of ridicule or ostracization....Yes, there are plenty of gay people, gay children, gay teenagers, and gay parents (myself included), who welcome the portrayal of a caring, wise, and good gay character in a fantasy series.

  • Badlactose, not only do you have an awesome username, you also took the words out of my mouth...

    Huzzah to you!

  • "Potter Fans, Rejoice!".

    ...not so much, to everyone else.

  • I really hope "Wizarding World " turns out good. I'm a big fan of the Potter books, and  to a lesser extent, the films. That being said, I intend to see it within it's first year or two of operation, before the upkeep and themeing begin to fall off, Universal style.

    On a side note, no matter what your opinion on the literary merits of the series, I don't understand how anyone could complain that Rowling wants creative control over the project. They are her creation, after all.

  • I must agree that Suess land is in a sad state. When I first visited IoA after it first opened I thought Suess was the highlight of the park. So much color and vibrancy. Now I like to hold Suess up as the prime example of Universal's refusal to maintain their products.

  • "greenyskp said:

    Especially if she toured Suess Landing with IOA. And then toured Tatooie at DHS, or Poohs Playground at MK, or walked through the que of Everest. Its obvious to me, that Disney does it better. (others disagree and thats ok)"

    Okay, I haven't been to IOA, so maybe Seuss Landing does look bad, but you're actually holding up "Tatooine" (I assume that's what you meant by "Tatooie"?) in DHS as some kind of example of great theming???

    It's a STORE! Made out of fake sand? Where in the world is the theming that demonstrates to you so clearly that "Disney does it better"??

    The Everest queue I'll give you, but Pooh's Playgound is a dump. It's also a massive waste of prime real estate that was once home to one of the greatest theme park attractions ever.

    Two of those three "great examples of theming" you mention are, IMO, examples of all that Disney is doing WRONG these days.

  • Pickstar:

    I'll be the first to admit i'm not up to date on my Star Wars places. Tatooine, is indeed just a store, what I meant was that whole Star Wars area, which I think is done great in terms of transporting you into a movie.

    As far as the Pooh Playground goes, I agree its a waste of real estate to adults and Disney Dweebs. But kids? Man, you havent lived until youve seen a child whos a pooh fan see that tree and get to go inside. its themed well, and to its audience. Which is children.  

    I was comparing it to IOA Suess playground, which 80% of it doesnt work/is closed/is in need of painting. They leave the winter stuff out in plain view (that large ice slide is always there by the entrance to Port of Call)

    My main point was Universal doesnt keep up with their "awesomeley themed attractions" once their built. Have you ridden Jurasic park lately? Enjoy that water line around each of the dinosaurs, ruining the illusion that they are real and can move. Then after you do that go ride the Jungle Cruise, which has been there since the 70's, and try to find age spots on those elephants. They still look new.

  • Badlactose, I daresay many parents were "offended" and also felt betrayed by Rowling's "revelation", which was conveniently made after all the books were sold and her personal bank account groaning with profit. What offends *me* about her revelation is that she made no mention of Dumbledore's sexual leanings in any of her books, gave no hint, offered no comment about about sexual orientation or tolerance. In so doing she is a moral coward and a hypocrite in my view. By making that revelation outside of the book series, she gets to look like a social progressive while taking none of the risks *real* social progressives face. Once again she falls short when compared to C.S. Lewis, who DID take risks in putting Christian allegory in his children's books - he was even criticized for it by his best friend, J.R.R. Tolkein, but he pushed on. That took guts IMO, guts Rowling apparently lacks - along with talent.

    Getting back to the subject, the Potter project will probably help boost Universal - for a time. But for all her fame, Rowling's name cannot compete with Disney when it comes to creative resonance. Disney has nothing to fear IMO. (Although, speaking of Narnia, I wish Diz would DO something decent with the property in their parks for crying out loud).

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