Theme Park Insider

Disney's Star Wars vs. Universal's Harry Potter, in One Photo

December 19, 2014, 1:30 PM · If you'd like to see the differences between Disney and Universal's treatment of the most popular film franchises in their theme parks, illustrated in one photo, here you go:

Can you imagine a Universal Studios T-shirt depicting Voldemort on the Caro-Seuss-el? Or Minions in wizard robes? It's impossible to imagine J.K. Rowling allowing such trivialization of the Wizarding World and its inhabitants.

But George Lucas long has shown a great acceptance of irreverence toward his Star Wars characters. After all, you can't greenlight the Star Wars Holiday Special if you're taking your characters too seriously. Let's not forget other examples of Lucas and his team poking fun, or at least allowing others to poke fun, at the Star Wars universe: the Stand Up to Cancer spoof, Death Star PR, Spaceballs, and possibly the most irreverent officially-blessed Star Wars take-off ever, Disney's Hyperspace Hoopla. There's some great stuff about Lucas' tolerance, and even enthusiasm, for spoofs in the new book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, and author Chris Taylor talked in an interview with The New Yorker about how a desire to be more serious in the prequels weighed down the "effervescent giddiness" of the original films.

In contrast, perhaps the closest that J.K. Rowling, with her drier British wit, has come to satirizing her creation was a guest appearance on "The Simpsons" that made fun of her fans more than her works. Sure, there's abundant humor in the Harry Potter world, but even when a gag takes you out of that world (hello, "spell-o-tape," a joke that about 1 in 100 Americans gets), it's never reduces the Wizarding World to tropes like putting Darth Vader in a Space Mountain rocket.

The irony, of course, is that traditionally it's been Universal that's been known for abundant irreverence and sarcasm in its theme park attractions while Disney has properties with much more earnest respect. If there were any doubt that we're living in a moment when franchises dominate the theme park industry, let's consider these examples of Star Wars and Harry Potter — franchises so powerful that they made Disney irreverent and Universal take something seriously.

Replies (9)

December 19, 2014 at 2:46 PM · I think this isn't so much "Disney vs Universal" as it is "Lucas vs Rowling". I don't believe for a second that Universal would think twice about selling a Despicable Me/Harry Potter crossover shirt if Rowling allowed it.

And Lucas may have green lit the Holiday Special but he disavowed it soon after. I don't know what happened to his judgement after that.

December 19, 2014 at 3:15 PM · I agree Brian. If Universal had licensing permission from Rowling, I think they'd milk this as much as they could.

I'm sure there would be minions with potter glasses, some combo minion/muggle merch, etc.

December 19, 2014 at 3:44 PM · I don't get it where Universal cheapscates their ip, could you please give me an explanation?
As a fan of both Star Wars and Potter I'm glad Potter is treated resoectfully. The whole Star Wars thing doesn't do anything for me. I want to step in these worlds not have an amusement park experiance.
December 19, 2014 at 5:49 PM · I actually like those shirts. No way I'd ever buy them, but they're good for a laugh. No one buys a t-shirt in a theme park to be taken seriously, so why not get one that's funny, even if it is irreverent? I would actually encourage Disney and Universal to keep making them.
December 20, 2014 at 4:19 AM · I give Universal credit for allowing the fans to enjoy the ip without hawking it at them with overpriced cupcakes, useless popcorn holders, and character dining.

At Harry Potter's wizarding world you can do everything without an extra hard ticket if you have a park to park ticket and you actually want to go into the shops because they are part of the themed experience instead of a soundstage full of merchandise.

December 20, 2014 at 12:30 PM · The difference is the audience, not the creators or the parks. Harry Potter is for children and as such is a sincere (if not serious) attempt to not only tell a story but to teach lessons about tolerance, bravery, and ethics. Not something to be made fun of, when you think about it. Star Ward was and is ultimately for adults, who get iconoclastic humor. Also note that Star Wars humor is directed at authoritarian figures of evil, like storm troopers and Darth Vader, which is a narrative device a bit too subtle for the under 13 crowd. Harry Potter is for children, and the bad guys are a reflection of nazism and racism. And nobody is ready to make light of that any time soon, at least not officially. You will find plenty of Voldemort mockery amongst older fans, but you won't find it at the park. And honestly - it's not necessary. It's a completely delightful experience taken at face value.
December 20, 2014 at 1:23 PM · I agree with the first commnet by Brian. I don't think Universal would hesitate a second, to capitalize on the popularity of the Harry Potter brand in other ways, such as silly T-Shirts, posters, etc.
Spoken from a lifetime Star Wars fan since 1977, I personally enjoy the occasional Star Wars silliness. Star Wars is much more than just a series of movies or cartoons, it's a brand, and with any brand, it's going to be used in many many different ways, including items with humor.
I love Harry Potter, but Star Wars has achieved a status far beyond what Harry Potter is currently at. I know Potter fans will argue that, but the truth is the truth. Here's hoping that Universal makes a T-shirt with Doby failing to meet the height requirement for the Harry Potter ride :-) It's ok to laugh once in a while at a theme park.
December 23, 2014 at 8:18 AM · I was just talking about how Disney has made a childish laughing stock of Star Wars... Darth Vader doing the "Running Man" dance on stage with Stormtroopers? And as for speculation as to how Universal would handle the same situation...really? Disney and Lucas have sunk to a new low.

Harry Potter had 8 excellent movies, Star Wars had 3 classics and 3 abominations according to most purists. The first 3 were filmed from 77 to 83ish with visible black boxes around everything that moved through space. How many special editions did Lucas create? I can't even keep track....

Now an all new director (who I really like) is going to lens flare and shaky film this whole new series....

You people do realize Universal only has rights to use JKs IP in a very specific way. Disney bought Lucasfilm lock stock and barrel. They can do anything they like, apparently.

December 22, 2014 at 4:57 PM · ===
Here's hoping that Universal makes a T-shirt with Doby failing to meet the height requirement for the Harry Potter ride :-)
===
Now THAT is genius! :)

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