Published: July 16, 2010 at 12:02 PM
The real answer to Harry Potter Land that Disney needs to give to the world---A new theme park. Inasmuch as Beastly Kingdom was supposed to be an integral part of DAK, Disney Imagineers have always tossed around the concept of a heroes/villains park. The Beastly Kingdom concept was supposed to incorporate some of the aspects of the heroes/villains park/land, but just as BK doesn't really fit well with AK, neither does the heroes/villains concept.
Disney is always looking for ways to get guests to spend more and more time on property, and what better way than to give them another theme park to explore. The last true expansion of Disney World occurred in 1998 with DAK. That theme park finished a facelift a couple of years ago. EPCOT's Futureworld just finished a big renovation, and MK is about to get it's biggest infusion of cash since Splash Mountain. There's very little renovation needed to keep guests coming through the gates, as all four parks operate at or near capacity for more than half the year. With limited expansion space in each of the park's masterplans, aside from EPCOT, which could still use some Futureworld "tweaking" at the Energy, Life, and Imagination (after Captain EO publicity dies down) pavillions along with the new country spaces (Spain, Greece, India, etc...), there's very little Disney can do to get more guests through the turnstyles. New attractions would get guests in, but on the busiest days of the year, the maximum capacity of the parks doesn't change. A 5th theme park would increase that maximum capacity and give Imagineers a new palate to work with, especially a set of colors/characters that other theme parks take advantage of, and Disney is always accused of ignoring.
Additionally, while most people who come here for theme park information understand that Harry Potter Land is just a small corner of Islands of Adventure, Universal is marketing it as an entirely new theme park, and lots of people are buying the promotion hook line and sinker, as evidenced by guests willing to stand in line for 4-6 hours just to get into the tiny corner of IOA while Spiderman, Hulk, and other IOA rides operate with 30 minute or shorter lines. The best way for Disney to combat that would be to announce a new theme park of their own. Along with the acquisition of the Marvel properties, a heroes/villains park would provide the balanced family experience guests expect out of Disney, while Universal is stuck with the limited, yet pretty wide, net cast by Harry Potter. Disney characters span the gammit of interest from the very young to the very old, while the Marvel characters hit home with the teens and young adults. Harry Potter is certainly popular with the adults, but it's core audience is very similar to the Marvel audience, one that Disney sometimes ignores.
Most of the Marvel concepts would be tricky to pull of because of the presence of so many of those characters at IOA, but I can think of one successful character/group of characters that has ZERO presence at IOA, and that is Iron Man/The Avengers (minus Hulk). Over the next few years, multiplexes will be innundated with these characters (Thor, Captain America, and eventually an Avengers movie), and while Disney would have to move fast to capitalize on the initial interest in these characters, they've all had pretty wide appeal over the years, and will likely spawn very successful franchises in years to come. Much like how IOA is anchored heavily by it's Marvel Superhero Island, a Disney heroes/villains park could have an entire land dedicated to the newly acquire Marvel properties.
Other sections of the park could be dedicated to iconic Disney villains like Maleficent, Jafar, Lotso, Ursula, and Scar. Fantasia's sequence "Night on Bald Mountain" has always been batted around as a concept for DAK's BK project, but would fit the mountain requirement needed for a successful Disney park (TOT has always been the "mountain" for DHS), and could even serve as the park's central icon (Tree of Life, Castle, Ball, Hat).
I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and while a park or an entire section of a park based on one of my favorite movies of all time would be cool, there's really no need for Disney to spend all of that money on overpriced intellectual property when they've got so much great stuff in-house. Updating Star Tour was a necessity, but expanding Star Wars further is a waste, and DHS is already an undersized park with a serious identity problem. A Star Wars stunt show would certainly be cool, but not what I would call a serious expension of the brand within DHS that could compete with Harry Potter. Also, Disney already taps in really well with the Star Wars audience through the Star Wars weekends and the super-popular Jedi Training Academy. In reality, if Disney wanted to do Star Wars justice, there's just not enough space in DHS to pull it off, and upgrading Star Tours and overlaying Star Wars on the Indy Stunt Show is not going to get Star Wars fans to geek out any more than they already do.
The best way Disney can get fight back against Harry Potter Land is to fight fire with fire, and launch Disney World's 5th full-day theme park, Disney's Heroes and Villains.