Disney, J.K. Rowling & Harry Potter: How Did It Go Down?

September 14, 2015, 11:28 AM

On November 19, 2013, TPI's Robert Niles sat down for a one-on-one interview with Disney Legend Tony Baxter. One of the most interesting moments in the conversation was this exchange:

Robert: We've talked about threads and making connections with people. What are some of the threads out there in the theme park business that you hope the next generation, that you've been bringing along, will develop in the future?

Tony: Well, the biggest misstep — well, we've got to be careful how we say this one — I won't say a word, but it looks a lot like this.

[Note from Robert: At this point, Tony goes to his desk and picks up a large booklet labeled "Walt Disney Imagineering: Harry Potter Plans," with an illustration of a Hogsmeade-like land on the front.]

This flash of a moment is an affirmation that at one time WDI and its parent company were in the hunt to develop attractions for a Harry Potter footprint at the Disney parks.

I have read plenty of theories and rumors, but very little substance (defined as genuinely credible sourced information).

Even larger, I don't know of anyone ever publishing a timeline of how these events unfolded.

So I thought I'd set up a thread that would allow TPI sleuths to post content previously published on the Internet to piece together how it all went down.

Replies (51)

Edited: September 14, 2015, 11:58 AM

I'll start (and by the way these posts would not have to follow any sort of chronological order.

June 30, 1997 - The first novel "Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone" is released.

1999 - Warner Brothers buys the film rights to the franchise.

2000 - I overhear conversations among Universal Creative acquaintances about the viability of a theme park presence for the franchise (true story).

2002 - I am working for a local commercial contractor. I run into two acquaintances that work for Universal Creative. They are standing next to the Kuka exhibit at the annual IAAPA convention. The executive level guy asks the upper management level guy, "what do you think of this?" Upper management guy says something like, "It's pretty cool." Executive level guy says, "We're thinking of using it as a 'pay-to-play' thing at CityWalk." (True story).

May 31, 2007 - Univesal Orlando announces plans to open the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Okay with these puzzle pieces to get things started, when did WDI sit down to weigh the possibility of Harry Potter at a Disney park?

September 14, 2015, 11:43 AM

They planed more than a replacement for the "Alien" scene in the Great Movie ride? I'm supprised.

September 14, 2015, 11:51 AM

I did a little bit of sluething on the site for the technoogy used (Robocoster) on the Harry Potter ride. I was able to find something from 2003 (not long after I joined!

http://www.themeparkinsider.com/news/response.cfm?ID=1395

It is interesting going back in time and seeing that back in 2003, Universal was interested in using this technology. However, we might have gotten it wrong. Then again, who would have thought Harry Potter!

September 14, 2015, 12:01 PM

To be honest, it probably is not really a surprise that Disney went for Harry Potter. I would be more surprised if they didn't. Its a great franchise that Disney would have probably done wonders with.

Disney learned and is working on Avatar and Star Wars. All is good and everybody wins!

September 14, 2015, 12:17 PM

First Potter movie dropped in November 2001. Which would put the window when Disney was evaluating the project somewhere between (guessing) early 2002 to maybe mid-2006?

September 14, 2015, 12:25 PM

From Jim Hill Media (October 15, 2006): "Toward that end, Disney officials very quietly began talks with J.K. Rowling, the acclaimed author of the "Harry Potter" series. And after months of negotiations, Rowling finally signed a letter of intent. Which then awarded the Walt Disney Company the right to begin preliminary development of a theme park-related project featuring the Harry Potter characters."

Mind you, this report was published seven months before Universal Orlando announced the IOA project.

September 14, 2015, 12:39 PM

Let's Review:

June 30, 1997 - The first novel "Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone" is released.

1999 - Warner Brothers buys the film rights to the franchise.

2000 - I overhear conversations among Universal Creative acquaintances about the viability of a theme park presence for the franchise (true story).

2002 - I am working for a local commercial contractor. I run into two acquaintances that work for Universal Creative. They are standing next to the Kuka exhibit at the annual IAAPA convention. The executive level guy asks the upper management level guy, "what do you think of this?" Upper management guy says something like, "It's pretty cool." Executive level guy says, "We're thinking of using it as a 'pay-to-play' thing at CityWalk." (True story).

November 2003 (From Theme Park Insider) - Universal plans a new attraction using the Kuka RoboCoaster system.

October 2006 - Jim Hill reports that J.K. Rowling signed a Letter of Intent to give theme park rights to Disney.

May 31, 2007 - Universal Orlando announces plans to open the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

September 15, 2015, 12:26 PM

Did Disney know about Universal's plans to open HP? I trust Jim Hill, but why would J.K. let Disney think they had the theme park rights in 2006 of Universal was going to announce it in 2007?

September 15, 2015, 12:38 PM

That's one of the questions this thread is trying to answer. It strikes me that if Disney had the LOI they might have been the ones who (for whatever reason) walked away.

September 15, 2015, 1:45 PM

It probably went something like this:

December 2006:

JK Rowling - "I'd like final creative approval over the design of the rides and attractions in the new Harry Potter land."

Corporate Disney - "What land are you talking about? We were aiming for a Fantasyland Meet-n-Greet. By the way, what say we re-name the main characters to be Mickey Potter, Her-Minnie Granger, and Donald Weasley? Kind of gives it that Disney magic doesn't it?"

JK Rowling - "I think we're going to have problems here."

January 2007:

Corporate Disney - "Okay JK, we'll work with you on that creative control thingy which by the way is far more than we gave George Lucas let alone those Pixar weenies who by the way we now own, and we're willing to do more than a Meet-n-Greet just to make you happy, but this Harry Potter Land is going to take some time, and we're still not sure where we're going to put it."

JK Rowling - "What are the potential sites, and how long is all of this going to take?"

Corporate Disney - "Well we thought we'd modify the United Kingdom pavilion at Epcot and call it the United Kingdom of Harry Potter. Put in a Soarin' kind of ride. Maybe call it Soarin' over Hogwarts. Change the name of the restaurant to the Three Broomsticks. Sell some wands and cloaks in the gift shop. Best of all, we can do this by 2023!"

JK Rowling - "2023!"

Corporate Disney - "Yeah, first we gotta fix a few problems with DCA, and then there's a few issues with DAK, and then those fussy Frenchmen want some things fixed at the Disney Paris resort. Plus George Lucas got a hold of Bob Iger's cell phone number the other day and threatened to post it on the Star Wars fansites if we didn't get off our duffs and get going on that Star Wars Land we promised him. And that doggone John Lasseter keeps trying to sneak in a Pixar land somewhere. And do you know how hard it is to fix a Yeti? Why it can take years!"

JK Rowling - "Taxi!"

September 15, 2015, 2:36 PM

Tim: I am laughing so hard. Pure genius.

September 15, 2015, 2:36 PM

There were rumors of Universal having secured the rights back in 2006, if not earlier, so I question whether Disney's authorization to develop a Potter-themed attraction was exclusive. It it was not, that adds a wrinkle into the timeline, as Disney and Universal could have been developing their proposals concurrently.

Edited: September 16, 2015, 2:38 AM

Note: I am going to switch from referring to Ms. Rowling in favor of "Team Potter" as we have no real information as to Ms. Rowling's participation. While there has been previous commentary alluding to her "hands-on" reputation in protecting her characters and stories, it's easy to understand how that can be embellished or magnified in the press. For example, I read sometime ago during the production of the first film she was very much involved. She has said as much in interviews -- revealing that the first time she met screenwriter Steve Kloves she said, "So you're the man who is going to butcher my baby?"

But then I've also read during the production of the second film she visited the set on only one occasion and in subsequent films she would largely advise the producers what could and could not be removed from the story -- as some details in the fourth and fifth films would become significant to the story in the latter productions.

This leads me to conclude that she may not be as over-the-top demanding as she is made out to be.

I find Robert Niles' post interesting as it affirms how little is really known about what happened between Disney and the Potter team.

In Robert's interview with Tony Baxter (unless the folder Mr. Baxter was holding was an elaborate prop to throw an interviewer off) it is apparent that Disney did some legwork related to the Potter IP. This would seem to demonstrate that the company pursued the IP. Further, if you accept what Jim Hill reported (and he has a good reputation for factual reporting) Disney's early interest and ensuing discussions were strong enough that team Potter to draft and sign a letter of intent.

Regarding Robert's concern about a "wrinkle in the timeline" I don't think that's an accurate assessment. Mr. Hill's article was published in October 2006 -- implying that any Disney/Potter Letter of Intent was signed BEFORE the article was published. Certainly if the LOI had dropped in July or August, there was still time for the deal to go south and Universal to pick-up the ball.

September 16, 2015, 3:53 AM

Adding to the timeline, I dug up one of my posts from July 2003:

Every once in awhile Universal Orlando President Bob Gault holds a “Lunch with Bob” question and answer session. Middle and upper management types sit around and pepper Mr. Gault with questions regarding various projects and ideas. Mr. Gault responds and then assigns people to follow up on promising suggestions
On Thursday, July 3rd, Mr. Gault hosted one such question and answer session. The minutes from the meeting were circulated among various personnel at Uninersal Orlando.

While there were several interesting questions, Gault’s answer to one particular inquiiry was especially notable.

Question: Has Universal pursued ‘Lord of the Rings’ or Harry Potter?

Gaults’ answer: “Disney has Harry Potter wrapped up. We will check into ‘Lord of the Rings.’”

September 16, 2015, 5:03 AM

Again, let's review and update:

June 30, 1997 - The first novel "Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone" is released.

1999 - Warner Brothers buys the film rights to the franchise.

2000 - I overhear conversations among Universal Creative acquaintances about the viability of a theme park presence for the franchise (true story).

2002 - I am working for a local commercial contractor. I run into two acquaintances that work for Universal Creative. They are standing next to the Kuka exhibit at the annual IAAPA convention. The executive level guy asks the upper management level guy, "what do you think of this?" Upper management guy says something like, "It's pretty cool." Executive level guy says, "We're thinking of using it as a 'pay-to-play' thing at CityWalk." (True story).

July 2003 - Universal President Bob Gault says publicly, “Disney has Harry Potter wrapped up."

November 2003 (From Theme Park Insider) - Universal plans a new attraction using the Kuka RoboCoaster system.

October 2006 - Jim Hill reports that J.K. Rowling signed a Letter of Intent to give theme park rights to Disney.

May 31, 2007 - Universal Orlando announces plans to open the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

September 16, 2015, 7:20 AM

I think the Disney/Team Potter deal went south when Disney showed J.K. Rowling the concept art for the Dumbo-dore spinner ride.

September 16, 2015, 7:48 AM

Since the Jim Hill article does not stipulate exactly when: the LOI was signed between Disney and Team Potter, AND the comments by Bob Gault AND Mr. Niles' report that Universal acquired the rights in 2006, that means (in theory) There was a three-year period that the project floated around ... well, somewhere.

September 16, 2015, 8:23 AM

The Letter of Intent probably floated around for a while before J.K. Rowling signed it and only after it was signed, did Disney balk. I would assume this happened because there's no reason for Disney to refuse build it. Maybe you need to investigate where Disney Executives felt about the issue. Eisner was under fire at the time and he lost his job. Iger started his job in 2005.

"Robert Allen "Bob" Iger is an American businessman and the chairman and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company. He was named president of Disney in 2000, and later succeeded Michael Eisner as chief executive in 2005, after a successful effort by Roy E. Disney to shake-up the management of the company. Iger oversaw the acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, following a period of strained relations with the animation studio."

A change in strategy?

Edited: September 16, 2015, 8:27 AM

An RFP period somewhere between 2003 and 2006 sounds about right to me, based on what I remember from listening to people in the industry at the time.

Also throwing this in: Warner Bros. Movie World in Australia had a Harry Potter exhibit somewhere around that time, and Legoland California had installed a Harry Potter overlay on its Hideaways play area in the same period, too. All that came down before the Universal announcement, though.

September 16, 2015, 8:31 AM

I'm guessing JK Rowling dropped her support as soon as Disney wanted to have Mickey walking around Hogsmead in his Sorcerers Apprentice garb.

Characters walking around, alongside generic merchandise are what I see to be the biggest offenders that would cause a breakdown in negotiations between the two parties.

Disney has a whole different (and extremely successful) business approach to using IP's compared to what the finished Harry Potter lands are. Putting Mickey ears on Stormtroopers sells very well, but I can see why an author would protect their own property from that.

September 16, 2015, 8:42 AM

Court E writes: "I'm guessing ...'

I respond: The conversation is trying to avoid guesses and piece together information gleaned from credible sources.

September 16, 2015, 9:33 AM

What? Educated guesses don't count, TH?

Unless one of the true insiders steps up and spills the beans, what we're left with is pretty much conjecture at this point, and even if we get some real inside info, we have no way of knowing that we're not being spun so somebody can outmaneuver a competitor in the corporation.

I'd be willing to bet that somebody big in the Disney corporate hierarchy failed miserably in their "Saving Mr. Banks" moment, and for anybody to fill in the blanks in your narrative would be career suicide for that individual.

September 16, 2015, 9:50 AM

Court E and others with the same tone are right. JK is known to be very particular and she did not want Disney to dilute the land with characters and such. I mean just look at the universal lands, nothing from the outside world is sold or found there.

September 16, 2015, 9:50 AM

I understand what TH acquires and seeks, but the conversation shouldn't stop at just the reported facts. Realistic educated guess, while not worthy of making TH's timeline, are worth discussing.

September 16, 2015, 9:57 AM

It seems like the Jim Hill story is actually explained here.

http://jimhillmedia.com/editor_in_chief1/b/jim_hill/archive/2007/06/01/why-for-today.aspx


"So Bob made pursuing a new deal with Pixar his top priority, rather than pushing WDI to do whatever it had to in order to make J.K. happy. So that Disney could then close a deal with this rather demanding author and acquire all of the theme park rights to the Harry Potter characters.

So then ... When word came back from Glendale that Rowling was making unrealistic demands, that the various items that she was insisting on including as part of Phase One of Disney's Harry Potter park would just make this project fiscally irresponsible as well as an operational nightmare ... It was Iger who then reportedly made the decision that the company shouldn't continue to pursue this deal. That it would be far better for all parties involved -- if they couldn't agree on what show elements should be included in the Potter project -- that Disney & Rowling just abandon this negotiation.

Which is why -- in late 2005 -- J.K. began talking with the folks over at Universal. Whereas Bob ... He then had Disney redouble its efforts to renew that studio's co-production pact with Pixar. Never dreaming that Steve Jobs might ever agree to sell his animation studio outright to the Mouse for some $7.4 billion."

Edited: September 16, 2015, 10:15 AM

With all due respect to everyone involved, I've always thought that story to include considerable, uh, "spin" from Disney management's point of view.

Obviously, the Potter deal has been anything but "fiscally irresponsible" for Universal and the Wizarding World hasn't been any more operationally difficult than some Disney attractions have been.

And I've never heard a word that JKR has ever scaled back her expectations for the Potter theme park project, at any point in the process. So unless we are accepting that Universal is far more operationally competent and financially creative than Disney (sorry, fat chance), then I suspect that this story includes quite a bit of spin that's obscuring some additional, as-yet-untold information.

Edited: September 16, 2015, 10:23 AM

Mr. Niles writes: "Obviously, the Potter deal has been anything but "fiscally irresponsible" for Universal and the Wizarding World hasn't been any more operationally difficult than some Disney attractions have been."

I respond: Not so sure I could fully accept that conclusion. If you read what Mr. Hill published it seems to imply that WDI's concept for Potter involved creating an entire park. Whereas Universal could work it into Islands of Adventure -- a theme park with oddly, juxtaposed segrated IP. Certainly you'd acknowledge a fiufth gate would be far more expensive than an expansion of an existing park -- let alone the potential canibalization of othe WDW properties.

The suggestion that Team Potter wanted an entire park would dovetail with those who have questioned where would Potter be built at WDW?

September 16, 2015, 10:31 AM

Another thing missing form the timeline is that Disney and the other major studios also fought for the movie rights. Had Disney or any other studio made the movies, we would have gotten a different movie series. Warner Brothers was very successful at translating the success of the Harry Potter books into movies. Had another studio did a poor job, Harry Potter's only home may have been on the book shelf and a few bad movies, and not at any theme park. If Universal made the movies, they likely would of been made with the theme parks in mind, and the same with Disney. Had either of them made the films, they probably would of gotten exclusive theme park rights as part of the deal. Ultimately there's just so much that we will likely never know. The instant success of the books meant the first movie was came out just a few years later, and a lot happened in a short time.

September 16, 2015, 10:33 AM

"I suspect that this story includes quite a bit of spin that's obscuring some additional, as-yet-untold information"

No, I think Disney was trying to purchase Pixar and this is confirmed with this story. Disney has to placate Pixar and they just can't devote energy towards J.K.R. and the Harry Potter franchise.

http://variety.com/2014/film/news/from-harry-potter-to-hunger-games-how-theme-parks-have-caught-franchise-fever-1201210671/

"While Disney has previously created smaller lands based on “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story,” “Cars Land is easily the biggest single land based on a film we’ve ever done,” says Tom Staggs, chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “The idea to build it actually came from Bob Iger, who felt that the world of ‘Cars’ had timeless appeal. He also recognized that Radiator Springs was a big part of what made ‘Cars’ so special and that by building the town nestled beneath the Cadillac Range we could make people feel they had literally stepped into the film. It has been a hit from the beginning.” "

I don't think Disney wanted to build a separate park for Harry Potter. It if was, then it shows they weren't ready with their proposals so it was a lose-lose either way.

September 16, 2015, 10:47 AM

Mr. Keith writes: "Another thing missing form the timeline is that Disney and the other major studios also fought for the movie rights."

I Respond: Did they? I know Warner Brothers bought the rights in 1999 for the first four films. Never read about any aggressive efforts by Disney to acquire the rights.

Mr. Keith writes: "Had either of them made the films, they probably would of gotten exclusive theme park rights as part of the deal."

I respond: I am pretty sure Warner gets a piece of the theme park pie as part of the deal Universal struck with Team Potter.

September 16, 2015, 10:50 AM

"Not so sure I could fully accept that conclusion. If you read what Mr. Hill published it seems to imply that WDI's concept for Potter involved creating an entire park."

Nearly every news outlet referred to Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure and the Nintendo expansion that's expected to be fully fledged out new theme parks. That is clearly not the case, so it's best to look at that idea with some scrutiny.

September 16, 2015, 11:00 AM

Let the executives speak. Here's what went down between Steve Jobs and Bob Iger.

http://www.macrumors.com/2014/12/29/disney-iger-profile-apple-pixar/

"Even before the news became public, he called Jobs to let him know big changes were coming. “I told him I was well aware of how strained the relationship had become,” says Iger. “I said, ‘I know you think it’s going to be business as usual, but I’d like to prove to you that it’s not.’?”

Jobs gave Iger the benefit of the doubt and told him to come up as soon as the dust settled. And that’s just what Iger did—not only because he knew Pixar was the key to revitalizing Disney’s lifeless animation studio, but also because he saw Apple’s CEO as a valuable technology partner. The sentiment, apparently, was reciprocated."

“Steve recognized that in Bob he actually had a partner,” says Edwin Catmull, current President of both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. “In the subsequent years they thought of each other as true partners. That’s what he wanted, and that’s not what he had previously.”

----
So putting it together: New CEO, New acquisition, New board members/partner/stock holders. Also, Steve Jobs helped to topple Eisner so he is responsible for that too.

Edited: September 16, 2015, 11:30 AM

After reading more articles on why Disney decided to do the New Fantasyland, Carsland, and Avatar and pass up on Harry Potter, I concluded Disney in 2006 wasn't ready to do Harry Potter and Universal was. This is all about timing. Disney isn't capable of doing Harry Potter at that time and they most definitely wasn't motivated either. Universal saw an opportunity and took it even with the onerous terms and conditions, which in retrospect was less onerous for Disney, yet Disney was a gorilla in its own right and wouldn't allow a creative person like JKR to dictate the terms (my speculation). So Disney passed and the rest is history.

September 16, 2015, 11:56 AM

I concur with Anon (with the sole exception of his admitted speculation about Rowling being too demanding). I think Disney had so much on its plate that Potter would have been too big a Twinkie.

In short, Team Potter didn't reject Disney, Disney made a business decision and moved on.

September 16, 2015, 12:49 PM

I don't buy that conclusion, TH.

Disney has had theme park rights to George Lucas's Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises for a long time and pretty much all we've seen are some Star Tours clones, a couple of Indiana Jones dark ride clones, and an Indy-themed stunt show. Disney even outright purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, and we're just now seeing nascent plans for Star Wars Lands/Universes in two Disney parks.

Disney purchased Pixar in 2006 and had the theme park rights for their IP for many years before that and despite of all of the incredible material Pixar productions offered for adaptation to Disney parks all we've seen of Pixar IP in Disney parks for years were the smattering of rides and playgrounds until the opening of Carsland in 2012.

How about Marvel? In 2009 Disney purchased Marvel entertainment, and realistically the only significant Marvel presence in a theme park is at Universal's Islands of Adventure park even though nothing prevents Disney from building Marvel attractions west of the Mississippi River.

What's common to all of these acquisitions is the fact that Disney bought the farm and not just the cows, and largely has total control over almost all of the creative content. In addition, Disney is prone to sitting on an IP until they are good and ready to do something with it.

So that leads me to believe that in the Disney/Team Potter negotiations, it was a mutual disdain. Based on their pattern of IP acquisition, Disney probably wanted more than just theme park rights, and with the Harry Potter material there wasn't much else available (movies, books, toys)that hadn't already had the rights sold. Plus based on the way that Universal developed the Harry Potter attractions with their incredibly immersive atmosphere and their adherence to the tone of the books, I don't think J.K. Rowling was going to relinquish much creative control to Disney nor was she going to allow Disney to sit on the IP until it pleased them.

I think they both walked away.

September 16, 2015, 1:47 PM

Tim's explanation is plausible. Contrary to TH, I do think JKR's demands are unacceptable to Disney. Disney just doesn't want to give up control. They will Disneyfy Harry Potter. I am sure they will take Harry Potter merchandising opportunities and turn them into Disney versions, thus compromising their integrity. Disney already did this with Star Wars. Thankfully, they haven't compromised Marvel yet and you can thank Universal for that.

Disney sitting on IPs are well known. I'm sure JKR doesn't want the project to forever stay on the pipeline and stagnate.

September 16, 2015, 2:00 PM

Again, I agree with Anon. "Disney isn't capable of doing Harry Potter at that time ..." Too much on their plate.

I also agree with Anon that Team Potter (and I am thinking Warner Brothers as much if not more so than Ms. Rowling's representatives) "want the project to forever stay on the pipeline and stagnate." I also concur that Disney does sit on IP.

So in the end Disney had a choice to make ... If they could not hold on to the IP until they could act on their own schedules they decided to (ahem) "Let It Go."

September 16, 2015, 2:41 PM

I had to comment on this because who cares really? This post is total on here say and what if's coming from a guy who is so into facts that he points out what was said on some other post three years ago verbatim. TH even uses first person. So why write this post? JK/Harry wanted more creative control and Universal was willing to give them that at the time. Fact. After seeing the success of that Disney steps up its game and is in the process of putting better quality attractions. Fact. Both companies are better for that. Fact. Done finished moving on please. There's no crying over spilled milk and there's no crying in theme parks.

Edited: September 16, 2015, 2:52 PM

Apple butter writes: "I had to comment on this because who cares really?"

I respond: Well, from my count there are seven TPI regulars who were interested enough to join the conversation. That list would include some TPI all-stars (Anon, Hillman, Court E) and the site's proprietor. And even you admit that you could not restrain yourself and "had to comment." So ...

Apple Butter writes: "JK/Harry wanted more creative control and Universal was willing to give them that at the time."

I respond: Now is that a sourced "fact" or is it based on (how did you spell it?) "here say?"

(Chuckle)

September 17, 2015, 3:12 AM

(I've been following along as well, TH. Just lurking though, as I have nothing substantive to add - as per my norm).

September 17, 2015, 6:54 AM

You know, it is easy to look at Harry Potter in the parks now and wonder why Disney didn't immediately run at the opportunity to create whatever JK Rowling wanted, but at the time the development of Harry Potter as a theme park attraction was a considerable risk. Universal had to make a major investment, dedicating an entire island of IOA to the Harry Potter franchise in order to make it work, and if the market wasn't there it would likely have been a billion dollars down the drain. Obviously that's not the way it happened, but who could have known back in 2007 that dedicating an entire land to one story with recent popularity could be so incredibly successful?

Disney has had a theme park strategy that has worked for 60 years; they really had no reason to believe that their proposal, whatever it was, would not have been popular. As the underdog, Universal had an opportunity to take a great financial risk with hopes of a great payoff which they still enjoy to this day. But I don't think that investment was a guarantee at the time.

September 17, 2015, 7:10 AM

This thread is interesting simply because it might give us a framework to interpret future acquisitions of outside IP by Disney and Universal which in turn affects the development plans for the parks.

It's also interesting to note that in recent years, Universal has apparently scored major victories with their acquisition of the theme park rights to Harry Potter and Nintendo (equally as big), but some questions linger as to how well these IPs would have fit into the Disney approach of buying as much control of the IP as possible and not just the theme park rights. Were these acquisitions the main course or were they just the leftovers that Disney didn't want?

Questions also remain for Disney. Despite sitting on a huge treasure trove of internally developed and externally acquired IP, the rules for successfully adapting those IPs to the parks are different than for Universal. Looking at the attendance figures, it appears that the Disney parks with predominantly Disney-identified IP are far more successful than the Disney parks with a lesser presence of Disney-identified IP, and that may be a contributing factor to the slow implementation of any IP in the Disney parks especially externally acquired IP. Disney has to take the time for their target audience to adjust their perception of the IP and see it as a Disney IP before it is accepted wholeheartedly by their fan base.

Look at how Star Wars has been introduced to the Disney parks. There are multitudes of Star Wars aficionados out there, but Disney is not completing the Star Wars Universes until one or two Star Wars movies are released under the Disney label. Is this just coincidence or is Disney ensuring that the rest of their target audience see Star Wars as a Disney property and not a George Lucas property that Disney is just renting? Much of the same can be said for Pixar. It wasn't until audiences embraced Pixar as an intrinsic part of Disney that we saw Carsland developed for DCA and subsequently Toy Story Land being developed for DHS.

So what does this mean for future acquisition of external IP by Disney and Universal and implementation of that IP in their parks? First of all, if the theme park rights for The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit franchise is ever sold by the Tolkien estate, Universal automatically becomes the frontrunner simply because LOTR fits the mold of a Universal acquisition and certainly not a Disney acquisition. It is worth far more to Universal than to Disney and they would be willing to pay more for it.

Secondly, Disney is going to take their sweet time putting any Marvel attractions in their parks anywhere if ever. Oh, we'll see more Marvel movies released by Disney over the next several years, but Universal has poisoned the well as far as getting any Marvel IP in Disney parks. It's not going to happen especially when there are far more Disney-identified IP like Frozen to be added to the mix. You're more likely to see Disney profit from licensing the Marvel theme park rights to Universal than you are to see a Marvel land in a Disney park.

September 17, 2015, 7:50 AM

I think that Tim clarified what I think of as the "Disney approach" to IP. When properties are incorporated into the Disney theme park cannon, they become Disneyfied. They are not exact copies of the original material, they are reminders of the original material with the Mickey presence. I don't think this is a bad thing either, it is just the way that Disney prefers to approach theme park content.

Universal on the other hand does not have as strong of an overall brand, and therefore they are able to more fully dedicate attractions to the source material. Their branding is entirely reliant on the original material, and therein lies its strength. But I can't think of a Universal equivalent to a Mickey Wizard; Universal needs the original property to have an identity. Which is better? I don't know, but I do think it frames how both companies approach the acquisition of IP.

September 17, 2015, 8:05 AM

It seems like Universal has more headroom to acquire more IP licences than Disney with their plate full of projects for the next 10 years. I don't expect Nintendo to take up that much time and resources. Disney has Avatar phase 2, Star Wars (phase 1, 2, ?), Toy Story, Marvel(?). Disney's plans are well hidden and unless they are finished, nothing new will be considered. Nothing is announced for Indiana Jones, another acquisition from the Star Wars purchase. The Indiana Jones Adventure should have a presence at Disney World and a swap out of Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom should be the goal.

On the other hand, maybe nothing needs to be done. Just keep expanding their existing very popular IPs. Frozen, Star Wars, Pirates.

September 17, 2015, 9:15 AM

I concur with Anon ... I don't think Disney has any need to acquire additional licensing ... Especially since they have Pixar and the expansion of the Star Wars franchise

September 17, 2015, 4:09 PM

From a business standpoint, I think Universal needed something extra to push their FL parks to the next level. They took Harry Potter and ran with it.

While there are likely some sour grapes at Disney, they really did not need it as bad as Universal.

I think the bigger area of concern is that Disney has been outfoxed once again in providing a new, revolutionary ride. Sure, New Fantasyland is nice, but it does not have the same "wow" factor as the main Harry Potter rides.

September 18, 2015, 10:45 AM

True Anthony but those are 2 different rides. The Potter rides are more intense and meant for preteens to adults. Where Fantasyland is more for toddlers to double digit age.

September 21, 2015, 9:35 PM

A reader on Twitter found this gem from the archives: Harry Potter's Going to Disney World?

How'd what we say back then hold up? :^)

September 21, 2015, 11:28 PM

No flying quidditch coaster, but I can totally see that happening at Islands of Adventure if they ever do a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them expansion. You were right in that Disney did not Harry Potter wrapped up. And we are still waiting for Lord of the Rings. Maybe a Tower of Sauron drop coaster

September 22, 2015, 9:12 AM

Wow that post was 12 years ago, vintage TH. I guess the guy lied about potter being wrapped up eh?

September 22, 2015, 11:04 AM

I would say more like a distraction. Unless Disney irons it down, the discussions go no where and this gave Universal an opening.

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