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Why didnt Disney World get Harry potter?

Walt Disney World: I read disney bid on the rights to harry potter, but backed out because of costs and jk rowling seeked too much creative control. does disney now regret their decison? If they had won the rights it would have been a death blow to Universal.

From Shannon Nelson
Posted May 23, 2012 at 8:45 PM
Recently got back from a trip to universal, loved the wizzarding world and butter beer. Why didnt disney poney up the money and land a tko on Universal?


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From James Trexen
Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:49 PM
Here's what we know. Disney has activated in conversations in the past with Rowling, but when she wanted a high amount of creative control, Disney declined. This was by no means a matter of money, considering their quarterly earnings. Does Disney regret it? Maybe, since this would have definitely kept more guests coming to WDW and less to Universal. Are they gonna cry over it? No, they're just gonna keep stepping up their game with Fantasyland, Avatar Land and other projects.

From nick stechman
Posted May 24, 2012 at 4:07 AM
I'm sure Disney never imagined in a million years that Universal would do such an awesome job with Harry potter. I don't think Disney would have done any better- indeed would it have been anywhere near as good?

I think the biggest regret for Disney is that UOR used to be a secondary place to visit in Orlando - now it's one of the main reasons why people want to visit. Soon UOR will have two must see parks.

From Donna McKay
Posted May 24, 2012 at 5:23 AM
I agree Nick-I really can't see what Disney could have done better. Well, apart from one thing.... Where is Dobby? Did I miss him? I could't find him anywhere which surprised me! Some kind of interactive attraction where guests can chat to Dobby (like Turtle Talk) would have been fantastic!

From Jeff Elliott
Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:04 AM
This is the way I understood it…..and it has been a while so my recollection may have added a bit of legend to an otherwise true story…..but I have been following the story for quite a while…..

Disney has been trying to get their hands on Harry Potter for quite a while. When the first movie was made, Harry Potter was already a phenomenon but no one knew how it was going to translate into a movie. It broke the first major rule of movies which is never work with kids……and in this movie instead of one extremely talented kid, you needed 3 extremely talented kids plus a whole school full of pretty talented kids….which in the movies is an extremely tall order…..to make matters worse, there were some conditions that JK Rowling had been insisting from the beginning including that the movie was not animated (Steven Spielberg would have been the director if she had allowed him to do it in animation), was filmed in Britain, had an all British cast, and JK Rowling would retain control of all of the characters, situations, and locations as well as strict script approval. Disney was in the bidding war for the first Harry Potter movie, but it went completely against their ethos of full control (Disney likes being able to throw the characters into their park at will, but the contract JK Rowling had made that impossible….so it was only the movie that was being bid on). Disney decided to low ball the offer since it was so risky……a bad contract, a school full of child actors, and fantasy movies had been taking a beating recently…..Warner Brothers had been in the mood of betting big at the turn of the century and that kind of mentality was paying off with really big hits and high profile failures that would at least make enough to earn their budget back….so it was really good days for them, they had solid relationships and contracts with George Clooney, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Stephen King, Stephen Spielberg, Denzel Washington, Ann Rice, and many other high profile names in the hopper all coming out with new materiel around the time Harry Potter was going to be in the theaters. Warner Brothers felt like it was a gamble worth making, while Disney balked (and keep in mind that during this time, the Disney parks were being run by the accountants who were trying to bleed every little expense they could out of the business).

After winning the development rights, Warner Brothers then did probably the most intelligent thing they could have done while making all of the fans beat their head against a wall thinking that it was the most spectacularly stupid thing ever thought of and hired Chris Columbus to direct the movie, who was hired because he had been so successful directing kids in Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire. But as it turned out, Chris was the perfect man for the job and had been wanting to take a bite out of something much better than comedies that wear on the nerves after the second viewing.

After the success of the first movie, Disney tried to get back in the game and tried to persuade JK Rowling to break with Warner Brothers, but once again, the Warners knew what they had and signed a contract with JK for all of the rest of her Harry Potter books, even the ones that hadn’t been written yet.

Disney then tried to get back in the game a different way by attempting to buy Scholastic, the US publisher of the Harry Potter Books, but Eisner had a tough time trying to sell the Disney board on the idea and I don’t think they ever got around to even making an official offer, since it would have cost the Walt Disney Company around 5-6 billion to buy the book publisher even as the book markets were starting to see major declines.

Fast forward a couple of years and Disney had somehow made the pitch that if Harry Potter wanted to live on forever, he needed to be in the Disney parks, similar to the kind of popularity that Star Wars and Indiana Jones had been having. The problem is that George Lucas is a fan of Disney and was willing to license his characters relatively inexpensively in exchange for having some creative control and a really cool ride system that no one had ever seen before. JK Rowling had no illusions that she was doing Disney a favor and not the other way around and never significantly reduced her asking price, wanted full creative control, and wanted the people working on the movie to be technical resources to make sure that everything looked exactly right. One of the more contentious issues was around entry into the Harry Potter area, which JK Rowling had insisted should be through the a magical portal at the back of the three broomsticks, something that Disney didn’t think could handle the crowds.

Negotiations went on and off again for nearly three years. Everything came to a head one weekend when JK Rowling was in Florida meeting with the Disney people and had a fairly contentious argument with the Disney staff to the point that she walked out of the meeting. Instead of heading back to the airport, JK decided to instead go over to Universal. She got to the front gate, declared who she was, and more or less demanded to see the president of the park. Within three days, Universal had agreed to just about every demand that she had made, including the price and high level ideas about where it would go in the parkm and what it would contain, and a letter of intent was signed. Designs were immediately started, approved, and construction started within 10 months. What was even more surprising about this is that Universal had just announced the closing of the Back to the Future ride to be replaced by the Simpsons, something that become much more expensive than originally planned as the voice actors had refused to do the ride unless they were paid much more than initially proposed….so Universal was betting quite a bit of their future on the success and popularity of the Simpsons and Harry Potter rides.

The rest, as they say, is history…..except for the bit that is in the future with Harry Potter being so popular in the amusement parks that Universal Studios Japan and Hollywood are lining up with their hat in their hands begging for Harry Potter to come to their park as well. While construction has not quite started for either, both are on the slate to get their Potter fix, as well as more Harry Potter love in Florida.

From Dominick D
Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:28 AM
Jeff pretty much covered it.

From nick stechman
Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:44 AM
That's a great idea Donna, maybe he will at potter orlando site b?

That's an epic post jeff! I love the fact that Rowling takes such an interest in the theme parks. Combined with comcasts commitment to the the parks division, it gives me real hope that the Hollywood version will be of a similar quality to Orlando.

From James Trexen
Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:41 PM
I'm not sure I'm totally buying the whole "Rowling showed an interst for theme parks." I think with her book series ending and movies that would eventually end, she knew that if Potter was to land in a theme park, it was then or never.

To reiterate, no I don't believe Rowling would have cared about theme parks. I think she just wanted to capitalize on what soon would have been a wasted oppurtunity.

From nick stechman
Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:06 AM
What I meant was that she seems to have cared about the quality of the rides, themeing, etc. (I hear she even tasted the butterbeer, before approving it). Sometimes these rights are sold, with little care for what the eventual experience will be like.

From nick stechman
Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:08 AM
What I meant was that she seems to have cared about the quality of the rides, themeing, etc. (I hear she even tasted the butterbeer, before approving it). Sometimes these rights are sold, with little care for what the eventual experience will be like.

From Phil B.
Posted May 25, 2012 at 8:46 AM
Yeah, although I don't pretend to know what was in J.K.'s mind, it would probably be safe to assume that she was courted and approached first to turn her property into a theme park presence as opposed to the other way around. As much of a pain in the rear it may have been to deal with somebody as controlling as her, I respect the fact that she had a clear vision as to what she knew she wanted to see as a tangible theme park property if ever built, and wasn't willing to compromise that artistic vision.

The great thing about her being so stubborn and taking HP over to Universal is that it raised the level of what you do with a property in a theme park. While Jurassic Park is a franchise that has it's own land devoted to it, HP takes that idea and elevates it to the next level of immersiveness. Most movie franchises are relegated to an attraction, a gift shop and possibly a meet and greet area. This is most likely what Disney had in mind. HP transports you INTO the world of the movies and books.

The way I see it, if HP goes to Disney, we never get the soon to open, heavily themed, enormous expansion that is Carsland. Nor do we get a Fantasy land that is doubled in size, attractions and immersive scale. And as Avatar Land is in the early stages of development, you would have to think that Disney is using everything it has learned and developed for it's latest major US park expansions and incorporating all of that into this next huge expansion area for AK, as well as raising their own bar as to what has been done and seen before.

Yup, J.K. and Potter not going to Disney is probably one of the best things to happen to the theme park industry in a long time, and has resulted in an industry wide renaissance for all parties involved on that level to step up their game or be left in the dust.

From Scott B
Posted May 25, 2012 at 9:11 AM
Awesome post Phil, great points to think about.

From TH Creative
Posted May 26, 2012 at 6:17 PM
Jeff Elliot writes: "Everything came to a head one weekend when JK Rowling was in Florida meeting with the Disney people and had a fairly contentious argument with the Disney staff to the point that she walked out of the meeting. Instead of heading back to the airport, JK decided to instead go over to Universal. She got to the front gate, declared who she was, and more or less demanded to see the president of the park."

I respond: Do you have ANY credible source that can verify ANY of part of this story?

From TH Creative
Posted May 26, 2012 at 6:28 PM
Jeff Elliot writes: After the success of the first movie, Disney tried to get back in the game and tried to persuade JK Rowling to break with Warner Brothers, but once again, the Warners knew what they had and signed a contract with JK for all of the rest of her Harry Potter books, even the ones that hadn’t been written yet.

I respond: That's not correct. Warner signed for the first four films in 1999. UK Mirror (4/23/11): "Rowling, 45, sold the film rights to her first four novels for a reported £1million 11 years ago."

From James Rao
Posted May 26, 2012 at 8:11 PM
I think the main point of contention was that Disney wanted singing hippos instead of singing frogs. Both are really, really, really bad ideas, but you never know which straw will break the hippo's back.

From James Trexen
Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:16 PM
I can't vouch for finding information in the paragraph TH quoted, but I did find something with a fairly credible source:

Former Walt Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar claims that Ms. Rowling was demanding that Disney pay more money than they offered. Naturally, Mickey closed the door on her. Therefore, Rowling did take the idea to Universal (but I seriously doubt she demanded to speak to a manager) and sold the Harry Potter rights.

Link

From Carrie Hood
Posted May 26, 2012 at 11:30 PM
It sounds to me more a matter of control. JK knew what she wanted and how it should look to keep with the spirit of the Potter books, a huge franchise which could be knocked down by a less then perfect job. Disney is huge with control, they want everything to be in their ballpark and very little in anyone else's. This is a pretty well known fact by anyone who pays attention, it's safe to say that Disney wouldn't give JK the control needed to keep the continuity true to the books. Disney would ham it up and keep the darker elements out, all while citing "It's for the kids" when in reality many kids grew up reading these books, you need the dark element.
Naturally I'd expect JK and Disney to butt heads on the matter, it's her creation and no matter what kind of person she may or may not be.. the fact of the matter is: it's hers. Universal was the one willing to give over the reigns and allow her the creative control to give us the amazing theme park land we now have. Universal also has a pretty good history of allowing whomever owns the property to have a lot of input, at least if the stories I've heard are true in regards to Jurassic Park and Marvel Superhero Island.

Frankly, I'm glad Disney didn't get their hands on it as I can't see them doing a better job then Universal did. Also remember, a LOT of Disney folks left WED to move over to Universal when the accountant sharks began to bleed the parks of every penny they could. Universal needed this and Disney needed the wake up call, it's the best possible thing that could have happened in my opinion.

I hope with AvatarLand at AK that Disney does give Cameron the control, because then we'll see something amazing. If they don't.. I can't even imagine what kind of cheesy nightmare we may all unwittingly walk into.

From James Rao
Posted May 27, 2012 at 11:13 AM
^Yes, because everything that comes out of Disney Imagineering is a cheesy nightmare. They just flat out suck. How the Disney parks ever got to be #1 by such an insane margin is a mystery to all of us. #sargasm

From Dominick D
Posted May 27, 2012 at 1:23 PM
^The only one who wouldn't take that as sarcasm is Jorge. He's a 24/7 Disney hater. But I agree that Disney could of done as good, if not better then Universal.

From TH Creative
Posted May 27, 2012 at 2:15 PM
This thread is .... I mean ... wow.

Sir Rao ... thanks for the sanity.

From TH Creative
Posted May 27, 2012 at 6:30 PM

If you watch this video, you will see a bunch of people (as in about dozen guests) who did not making their decision about where to vacation based upon where there is a Harry Potter attraction.

And they seem pleased with their decision.

From TH Creative
Posted May 27, 2012 at 7:17 PM

The question on this thread (which has been asked about a million times) is "Why didn't Disney get Potter?" The answer is provided by this clip ... Who could possibly care?

From Dominick D
Posted May 27, 2012 at 7:46 PM
TH, you have 2 very good points. Besides, when you have hippos in a resort, who cares?

From James Trexen
Posted May 27, 2012 at 8:54 PM
Okay TH, what's your point? I don't think anyone here would disagree that while Universal certainly received a chance to get back in the game, Disney continues to lead strong for theme parks.

From Richard Faraci
Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:01 AM
This thread is pretty ridiculous and has only confirmed what I pretty much feared; some people are unabashed fanboys of their favorite theme parks. I thought this website was for theme park fans, not people to go back and forth with "DISNEY SUCKS" "NO UNIVERSAL SUCKS".

They're both fantastic resorts that people have fun at.

From Rob Pastor
Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:44 AM
Richard: You are soooo right!!!

From Amanda Jenkins
Posted May 29, 2012 at 12:50 AM
As many TPI's readers know, I am a huge fan of Disney. I am also a big fan of Universal. I loved the Harry Potter books and movies. Having said that, I would like to point out something I have noticed on the discussion board.

Whenever Universal or Disney acquires a franchise, there are always comments that degrade the theme park who lost out. Why?

Could Disney have done something amazing with Harry Potter? Most likely. Did Universal do something amazing with Harry Potter? Of course. But we are talking about two of the leading contenders for theme parks. To me, J.K. Rowling was in a win/win situation. You had two parks, which had already proven that they know how to make a product come to life and offer experiences beyond our normal lives, fight over the rights. I mean, put this with a fat man in a red suit and you have Christmas. Regardless of the whys and who should have done this or that, let's be thankful that A. Universal did an amazing job, and B. It is luckily in the same city as a Disney Park so you get even more bang for your vacation destination.

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