After the Harry Potter film series ended in 2011, most in the Muggle world thought that, barring the occasional short story on author J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website, the franchise was effectively dead.
2016 has proven to be a big negation of that doom-and-gloom sentiment. The stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child gave us an extra adventure with Harry and company, but the real mover and shaker is this month’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, an original film (written by Rowling herself) that kicks off a brand-new five-entry sub-franchise set in the decades before Harry arrives at Hogwarts School to do battle with the evil Lord Voldemort.
For theme park aficionados, of course, the real draw behind the new movie lies in its potential to inspire new attractions at Universal Orlando Resort; especially given how spectacularly Universal and license holder Warner Bros. have managed to realize Harry Potter in the parks, there’s very little doubt that Fantastic Beasts will be the Next Big Thing, blowing everything else out of the water (sorry, Avatar and Star Wars Lands).
We have a few ideas of our own as to how the new franchise starter can be instituted at the resort, whether retrofitted into the current Wizarding Worlds or as part of an all-new theme park over at Site B.
Let’s get right into it, shall we?
3. The Blind Pig
Most of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, interestingly enough, takes place in the No-Maj (that’s American slang for “Muggle”) world, as opposed to within the wizarding community. One of the few magic-only locations that our characters visit – though only for a handful of minutes – is The Blind Pig, a jazz club that doubles as a speakeasy (even though “gigglewater” isn’t prohibited in the wizarding world) and which is owned by the goblin gangster Gnarlack.
There’s much going for the 1920s joint which would make it significantly more than just the next Three Broomsticks or Leaky Cauldron. Even though the Diagon Alley-esque entranceway, hidden behind a (clever) advertisement for Blind Pig lipstick, would have to be done away with to accommodate the massive influx of patrons, there is still the all-goblin singer and band, which would take the Celestina Warbeck show and kick it to the next level by including the various magical special effects alongside the songs. And the opportunity to include several of the titular fantastic beasts hidden around the premises – most especially the poor Bowtruckle as he attempts to escape Gnarlack’s possession – would make for a series of Easter eggs that would make Three Broomstick’s hidden House-elves positively quaint by comparison.
And all of which isn’t to mention the huge amount of new food, drinks, and – of course – alcoholic beverages that would be on offer. Given the ‘20s premise and the American setting, The Blind Pig would be the most unique of all the Wizarding World of Harry Potter restaurants. And that’s even before we take the next big proposal into question: why not go the full distance and make this Fantastic Beasts eatery a full-service destination? The longer gastronomical time would accommodate the stage shows better and could even make this fine-dining establishment the new Mythos of the resort – something of a necessity, in fact, should the rumors prove true and The Lost Continent be removed soon to make room for the next big Universal Orlando addition.
2. Newt Scamander’s suitcase
If Harry Potter has Hogwarts Castle, then Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has Newton Scamander’s suitcase.
The signature item from the new movie – and, quite possibly, movie series – Newt’s magically-enhanced briefcase is where he stores all of the various exotic creatures that he’s collected on his journeys around the world over the years. Once one walks inside the piece of luggage, he enters something of a vestibule that feels like a wooden shed, filled with supplies and equipment and, but of course, rare magical ingredients. From there, a series of partitioned habitats unfolds, each charmed to represent a completely different environment: the Thunderbird lives in a desert recreation of its homeland, Arizona; the Bowtruckles inhabit a lush jungle; and the dangerous Obscurus is placed in a bleak, snowy landscape, separating it from other lifeforms as much as possible.
If this doesn’t sound like a ready-made walk-through attraction, in which guests can recreate Newt and Jacob Kowalski’s (his newfound No-Maj buddy) tour through the magical menagerie, then we don’t know what does. Even better, there is the opportunity here to make each environ as different and unique as humanly possible; guests can shuffle from sun-blasted deserts to ice-cold tundra, and they can also be afforded the opportunity to interact with each of the different animals in totally different ways – the Graphorn, for instance, could be an interactive animatronic not unlike the Gringotts money exchanger in Diagon Alley, while the Occamy could be a Raptor Encounter-esque life-size puppet.
Finally, there are a few finishing touches that could really go the extra mile in differentiating this as a major themed experience. A daily scavenger hunt challenge could be instituted, including some critters that only pop up for a few minutes at a time. There’s even the possibility of rotating out the exhibits on a regular basis, ensuring that guests can always get a different experience throughout the year.
It’s enough to banish the bad name that Poseidon’s Fury has given walk-through attractions (at Universal Orlando, at least) – no small feat, certainly.
Now that we have Newt’s walk-through menagerie out of the way for families and their children, let’s get to the really good stuff, yes?
The Magical Congress of the United States of America, the Stateside version of England’s Ministry of Magic, is an exquisite, impressive structure. Housed inside the Woolworth Building in Manhattan, the wizarding version (accessible through the wizarding side-entrance, but of course) has most of the skyscraper’s 60 stories sitting wide open, to allow a truly grandiose view. Given what Universal’s designers managed to accomplish with the lobby of Gringotts Bank as part of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts’s queue, it’s easy to imagine a near-perfect copy of this atrium sitting somewhere on the resort, welcoming guests with what would easily be the world’s most impressive themed interior ever built.
Much like what we’ve postulated about the rumored Ministry of Magic expansion, we’re convinced this building could house a whole host of mini-experiences (gift shops, character meet-‘n-greets, even a few counter-service stops) as well as double as the queue for a brand-new, state-of-the-art dark ride. While we’ll leave the exact mechanics of the ride vehicle open – should it be Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’s wild KUKA arm or Escape from Gringotts’s more traditional roller coaster-esque car? – we’ve got the story down pat: while visiting MACUSA, there has been yet another sighting of that dark, mysterious force that’s been ravaging New York City. You, despite being a No-Maj visitor, get called out to help locate the entity – and, along the way, word breaks that Newt Scamander’s various magical creatures have escaped his suitcase, and tracking them down before the secrecy of the American wizarding world has been compromised becomes the overwhelming priority.
Careening down the streets of ‘20s New York, chasing after the Niffler as he darts from one shiny object to the next, zooming after the Billywig in the air, and trying to subdue the rampaging Erumpent in the zoo would all be highlights of the attraction’s experience, but the fateful climax, of course, would be cornering the dangerous Obscurus in the subway. While Forbidden Journey’s story is piecemeal, at best, and Escape from Gringotts’s was forced into the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, this one is a natural, organic fit – and would easily feature the most thrills.