What's the deal with some Disney theme park fans and Universal?
Published: August 26, 2010 at 1:02 PM
It seems to me that no matter what Universal rolls out, some Disney fans will dismiss it. Take a look at the reaction to Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Theme Park Insider readers love the new land, and its top ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, voting that attraction the best new attraction for 2010. Universal Creative's work has amazed attraction designers throughout the industry - even folks within Walt Disney Imagineering have (very privately) expressed admiration for the project.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey drew one million riders faster than any ride in Universal history, while helping increase attendance at Islands of Adventure this summer, even as attendance at other Orlando-area theme parks (including the Walt Disney World parks) fell.
The kids, in front Honeydukes at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park
I understand that Harry Potter doesn't connect with some theme park fans. No theme or franchise will wow everyone. Even Disney's most popular franchises leave some visitors cold. I get that.
But beyond folks who just don't care for Harry Potter, by no objective standard can one consider The Wizarding World of Harry Potter an inferior creative work than what is available today at the Walt Disney World theme parks. I'm not insisting that Universal's Harry Potter is better than everything at the Walt Disney World Resort, just that it is ridiculous to claim that it's worse than the Disney average.
Yet that's what a few Disney fans continue to insist. On online message boards, and overheard around the Walt Disney World Resort, these fans (many of whom I assume have yet to visit the Wizarding World), bad-mouth Universal's work.
"The opening was a disaster." "A flop." (This argument reminds me of the old Yogi Berra line: "No one goes there anymore; It's too crowded.")
"Harry Potter won't last." "It's just a fad." (With more than $5 billion in movie ticket sales and more than 400 million books sold to date, this franchise isn't fading out anytime soon.)
"It's not that impressive." "Disney could have done better." (The Wizarding World is "not that impressive" only to people unwilling to consider it. And if Disney could do better, well, I would love for WDI to accept that challenge and brew up something new which tops it!)
Not all Disney fans think this way, of course. I personally know dozens of Disney-lovers who can't wait to visit the Wizarding World, or who have visited and think the new land delightful. But I also couldn't miss overhearing a few others trash Harry Potter, while I was in Orlando. (FWIW, I heard not one negative comment about the new land while on Universal property. Only while at Disney.)
Here's my theory: It's insecurity. Some fans see their love for Disney as an affirmation of their good taste. As consumers, they've invested heavily in what's widely considered the best in the business (Disney), so that must mean they're smart customers.
But what if another company comes up with something better than (or even just as good as) Disney? What does that say about those fans' financial investment in being a Disney fan? Does that mean they don't have the great taste and smarts that they thought they did?
The easy solution, then, for these folks would be to dismiss the possibility that anyone other than Disney can ever do anything as well as Disney does.
That's just silly, though. If you've dropped thousands of dollars on a DVC membership, or annual trips to Walt Disney World - great. You've gotten a delightful entertainment experience for your money. (Or, at least, I hope that you have.) But entertainment isn't a zero-sum game. A wonderful new attraction at Universal doesn't diminish your Disney experience.
If anything, it can enhance it. Go ahead, spend a day or two up the road at Universal during your next Disney World vacation, and enjoy it. Or even if you don't, just wait to see what Walt Disney Imagineering comes up with as it tries to wrest the industry "buzz" back from Universal.
Trust me, WDI has the ears of Disney management now (especially John Lasseter) and they are playing to Disney's corporate pride. I continue to believe that's part of the reason why Disney's revisiting its plans for the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion and why so many attractions at Disneyland in California are getting some much-needed love. Lasseter, Tony Baxter and others at Disney have no intention of letting Mark Woodbury and Thierry Coup at Universal Creative hog the industry spotlight for long.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey's been great for Central Florida tourism - and for the theme park industry. As we've noted before on this site, what's good for Central Florida and the theme park business is good for Disney, too.
So, to those few Disney fans who are dismissing it, you don't need to knock The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to prove your credibility as a Disney fan. Enjoy it, celebrate it, and wait with us to see (and, we hope, enjoy) Disney's inevitable response.