One of the main, everlasting draws of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, in addition to its stellar queue and its faithfulness to the source material, is its inclusion of a cornucopia of actors from the Harry Potter films; being able to swoop over a Quidditch pitch or through the Chamber of Secrets wouldn’t be very meaningful, after all, if it didn’t include all the familiar faces that viewers (and readers!) had come to identify with over the course of eight movies and a full decade.
That such a carryover from the cinematic franchise would occur isn’t much of a surprise, given that the films were still in production when the ride was being developed (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, the penultimate movie, released five months after Forbidden Journey bowed), and it wouldn’t, therefore, take much to have all the wardrobe and necessary props be carried over to Universal’s soundstage. In this way, Harry’s theme park presence is as congruous as possible with his narrative ones.
All this changed, however, when it came time to expand the Wizarding World with Diagon Alley. Arriving almost exactly three years to the day Deathly Hallows, Part 2 came out, the core actors were more than eager to move on with their careers – or attempt to, at least – and of the main three leads, only one was willing to don his robes once again for the land’s two new attractions: the Hogwarts Express and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (which explains the terrible Hermione voice that guests are forced to endure on the former). This is at least part of what necessitated Universal Creative to focus Gringotts on the tertiary (at best) character of Bill Weasley.
But here’s the beauty of the ride: by making a side character the protagonist, Universal presented a fresh angle on a well-trodden narrative (unlike Forbidden Journey, Escape from Gringotts’s story is lifted directly from the book and film), thereby enhancing the guest’s experience instead of detracting from it. It’s a subtle-but-impressive feat, and one that is only possible thanks to the main trio’s presence in the background, both literally and figuratively; if Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn’t make an appearance at all, would the ride still be as engaging and worthwhile as it is? Would visitors still flock to it during all hours of the day?
It’s actually not a rhetorical question – as we get closer and closer to Dragon Challenge‘s replacement attraction, which will open eight years after the movies’ conclusion, will any of the original cast be willing to pop back up? If not, then the new roller coaster has three different tacks it can take.
1. Side character takes main stage
Call this first option the Escape from Gringotts scenario: just as Bill Weasley, who barely registers in any of the films, can be made the centerpiece of the ride (hey, the man does work for Gringotts Bank, so it’s not that much of a stretch), then there is a whole plethora of other fringe characters who can be given their turn in the spotlight. If the new ride is set in the Forbidden Forest, why not follow the centaur Firenze or Hagrid’s giant half-brother, Grawp? If primarily based in Azkaban prison, then Barty Crouch, Jr. – or, yes, even the biggest of all the side characters, Sirius Black – could be the way to go. Then there’s the Malfoys, Nymphadora Tonks, Argus Filch, Cedric Diggory (if Universal wanted to keep the Triwizard Tournament theme going), or the Longbottoms to consider, as well.
Once again, the danger here is that guests may feel so far removed from the likes of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, that the ride experience would feel tacked on and forced instead of congruous and organic, even if Universal pulls yet another page from Gringotts’s book and hews closely to a specific episode from the source material. Another, related possibility: the difference could be split and one of the main recurring faces be used instead (think Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, or, even, Lord Voldemort himself), which is actually the option that author J.K. Rowling has opted to take her brand-new film franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in; the five-movie story is all about Gellert Grindelwald, the original Voldemort, though, once again, she is working with the safety net of having both Dumbledore and Newt Scamander present, two characters who hail from the progenitor series (to one degree or another).
2. A brand-new protagonist
This is the riskiest of all of Universal’s options, though it’s also one that has the biggest possible reward, as well.
Should the company decide to work with Rowling and her filmmaking team to create a new protagonist from scratch, fans would either be immediately turned off or instantly magnetized to the new attraction; it would either be laughable or a must-do experience, depending upon who the character is, how he or she is positioned in the mythology, and what kind of future enthusiasts could expect for him.
There’s actually some precedent for this seemingly-way-out-there scenario: in the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, guests are treated to the very first – and, so far, only – appearance of the four founding members of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (well, if one excludes the “trading cards” that come with the gift shops’ chocolate frogs, that is). And 2016’s stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, moves the action some 25 years in the future, following the adventures of Harry’s second son, Albus Severus Potter, and all his new friends and nemeses as he takes his turn at Hogwarts – something which Warner Bros. is rumored to be very interested in fashioning a whole new series of movies out of. When combined with Rowling’s recent dabbling in the short story format for her personal site, Pottermore, the sky’s well and truly the limit for whatever new character and whatever new premise that she might come up with for Florida’s Wizarding World.
3. First years, this way!
Yes, this is something of a cheat, but it nonetheless wouldn’t require the presence or involvement of the main three cast – call it a win for both Universal and the actors.
Let’s say the new attraction is set within the Forbidden Forest, given its geographic proximity to Hogsmeade Village. One of the most memorable incidents to have occurred in the location is from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the inaugural novel/film, when a possessed Professor Quirrell hunts down and murders a unicorn in order to drink its blood and help nourish his master, Voldemort, back to corporeal health. To incorporate such a story for the new ride, Universal Creative could feature 11-year-old versions of Harry, Ron, and Hermione and ask you to explore the even-larger and even-more-terrifying forest with them; archival footage could be combined with some computer-generated trickery in order to provide the new performances, which is exactly the method that Universal employed in order to include Harry and Hermione in Escape from Gringotts.
And this first-year theme could be extended well beyond the woods’ borders, as well, including scenes around, say, Hagrid’s hut or other nearby locales – maybe riders will even be expected to help the fabled trio complete the gauntlet of challenges in order to reach the fabled Sorcerer’s Stone deep within Hogwarts Castle. (Seeing as how the Wizarding World’s placement in the Potter timeline is already so schizophrenic – Escape from Gringotts occurs during the last movie, while all the rest of Diagon Alley is set somewhere in the first half of the series, just as one for-instance – having a ride version of Sorcerer’s Stone wouldn’t at all be a problem.)
Which path do you think Universal, Warner Bros., and Jo Rowling need to take? Let us know in the comments below or over on our Facebook group.