Here we are, The Wizarding World is back, yet it oddly hasn’t got anything to do with the story – which is kind of amazing.
I (along with many young British children) was exposed to Harry Potter during its ‘mania’ days from the late 90s to mid-2000s. It was inescapable, and I got into it purely because of how much it seeped into every aspect of British culture.
I hesitate to call myself a “fan,” but I did read the books and watch the films, and had a Hogwarts shirt when I was younger.
Personally, I never really clicked with Harry Potter the way my friends did. I never liked the “chosen one” narrative, and I found the clear-cut duality between Good and Evil wasn’t my speed. Funnily enough, this was when I was looking more at Japanese media, with complex characters, ethics, and cultural aspirations … not just “Slytherin = Bad,” “Harry Potter and friends = Good,” “Dark Wizard = Bad.”
Again, this is all personal. It probably wasn’t surprising that I placed in Slytherin through Pottermore’s quiz a decade later … with an Eagle Patronus to boot (Dual national?).
But I digress.
The strange thing is, I think I enjoyed the spinoffs and merchandising more – I obsessed over the PC game Quidditch World Cup as a kid (even if that 150-point rule still makes no sense). I had a Hogwarts pencil case at primary school. I ate those disgusting Bertie Botts Every-Flavour bean. I ate the actually-quite-nice Chocolate Frogs, I had the sheet music for Hedwig’s Theme, and the John Williams soundtrack; not to mention just about every Halloween party had a Harry Potter or two somewhere.
Again, it was a cultural phenomenon; especially in Britain. As with all great transmedia franchises, it transcended from the platform to the everyday.
But the question is, how do you keep the “phenomenon” going?
Well, that’s what we’re looking at today; especially seeing as the franchise has seen major coverage. Fans queued for TEN hours to ride the new roller coaster, the AR Pokémon Go-style Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was recently released, and as for the story … yeah. That’s the strange thing …
THE STORY THEN: THE BOY WHO LIVED
But there’s no doubt that the seven Harry Potter books are classics and have rightfully earned their place in history. Why? Because they had a really great story. Essentially, they were mystery novels with magical elements. Who’s trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone? Who opened the Chamber of Secrets? Who is the Prisoner of Azkaban and why does he want Harry? And so on.
On top of all that, we saw Harry go through the hero’s journey from “The Boy Who Lived” to eventually growing up, getting a new family and defeating Voldemort.
It works. As a story it works. But on a world-building level, it’s brilliant.
A hidden-secret magic wizard world? Hell yeah!
As for the movies, I almost feel like they were ahead of their time. Due to the popularity of the books, of course Warner Bros. wanted to get a franchise up and running – with a solid 8 films and they are mostly OK (Best: Prisoner of Azkaban; Worst: Half-Blood Prince).
In hindsight, given all the detailed world-building, it could have really made a great Netflix series – with roughly 13+ episodes to explore each of the books. I mean, if streaming was around then I imagine that would be the route they’d go.
But beyond that, that was it. We got our 19 years later. We got our epilogue. It looked like the end.
Merchandising will always be a thing, but that only really generates revenue if there’s a story attached to it; a hook – after all, what is a toy line without an animated series to back it up? It’s a fundamental principle of that old-time transbranding approach.
THE STORY NOW: WHAT? WHY? HOW? HELP!
So now we have …
The Guy who collects Fantastic Beasts?
A secret Dumbledore?
Time-Travelling Potter and Malfoy kids?
Uncomfortable Twitter Feeds …
It’s been an odd few years after the finale to the Potter movies. We got the *ahem* Eighth Potter Book/Script/Play The Cursed Child, which was problematic for the Potter narrative.
Fans were mystified by plot points about Time Turners changing their function, Cedric Digory becoming a Death Eater, Voldemort somehow having a daughter with Beletrix Lestrange … meaning she would have had to have been heavily pregnant during that scene in Malfoy Manor in The Deathly Hallows, which doesn’t really make sense.
I may not be a Potter fan specifically, but timelines are very important to me – they offer context and act as a point-of-focus in a fantastical world.
The story was a bit of a mess, but from what I’ve heard the play is considerably better. It’s a two-night event and no-doubt a more immersive atmosphere than my trudging my way through a plot-holed script by myself.
The story is made even worse by the Fantastic Beasts planned FIVE-movie prequel series, which has received MASSIVE backlash from fans, regarding story, twists, hidden Dumbledores, “Passionate” unseen LGBT representation, timelines and dates that simply don’t add up, and finding it very difficult to engage with a new cast of characters.
As for the authenticity, it’s really difficult to defend why these are getting made … and from a book that was released in conjunction with Comic Relief.
There have been a multitude of articles about why this series is bad, so I won’t dwell on it too much. But I highly recommend this read: “Why Fantastic Beasts is destroying what fans loved most about Harry Potter.”
I simply want to conclude this section by saying … the story’s currently not great, and with the latest Fantastic Beasts being panned by critics and fans, we got the lowest grossing Wizarding World movie ever; a problem when you’ve planned three more in the works.
It’s definitely not great in the social-media climate to dismantle your fan base.
So, with my disappointment at the overarching story, I return back to the actual World of the Wizarding World, as I think it’s here where things look considerably brighter and bringing in bigger crowds.
Of course, there is a lot to mention. But I really want to focus on the current digital and experiential.
This is because I want to highlight how this world seems to thrive on the aesthetic, and not how Letta Lestrange swapped babies in The Crimes of Grindlewald.
THE STUDIO TOUR
I think this is actually something that has worked very well. I went a couple years back and ate some more questionable Bertie Botts every flavour bean and drank some very-sugary butterbeer. But it really felt like you were “part of the world”.
I think it went beyond just aesthetics. Having movie props, behind the scenes features, and being able to physically see the costumes the actors were wearing made it all seem more personal than just watching a film.
This really should be something more studios should look at. I can absolutely imagine Marvel doing something like this with all their Iron Man suits and Captain America shields.
POTTERMORE: MAGIC ONLINE
The website is more interesting in some ways, because it draws upon the Potter mythos. You have personality quizzes to place you into your houses, a flash game to give you your own patronus.
My only improvement I’d add would be a “make your own wand” thing. You can absolutely do this on Pottermore, but if you could actually get them sent off and made, that’d be amazing.
Sure, it’s fun buying a Voldemort wand after the tour, but it could be cooler to have my own personal bit of China-manufactured Dragon core heartstring.
Of course, there are other things to do as well on the site – read up on the other magical schools around the world, more on the history of magic, the American school system.
Best of all, it’s written by J.K. Rowling herself, so it doesn’t really feel like spin-off. Rather, it feels like an authentic fleshing out the universe on a different platform – in true transmedia spirit.
Compared to other company websites, this is probably the most immersive, and something to try and replicate in the future.
HAGRID’S MAGICAL CREATURES MOTORBIKE ADVENTURE
This is a bit trickier to explain. On the one hand, it’s arguably just like any other tie-in roller coaster. We have it with Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, and we have it here too.
But this has been marketed as a “Story Coaster” – exploring a magical corner of the wizarding world, and a never-before-seen creature in the films.
As a roller coaster enthusiast, there are some fun facts. It is now the longest roller coaster in Florida at nearly a mile in length, boasting 7 launches (more than any other roller coaster in the world), one of two in the world with a free-fall vertical drop of around 17 feet, and is the first Universal ride with a “virtual queue” system – essentially a way to issue a ticket with a time for you to ride the ride.
So, there’s already an element of grandeur and exclusivity to this ride – made more interesting by the fact it opens only at MIDDAY due to capacity issues and maintenance (mid-day also being the time Florida will most likely get thunderstorms, making it an even more exclusive.
Just trying to get on this ride itself is an event, even before the “story” has been factored in.
I think the draw is with the experience more than anything. From what I’ve heard, there are no major story-revelations on this ride. It’s not like they’re going to have a Snape-killing Dumbledore moment on here after all – it’s a magical-creature roller coaster with groundbreaking visual sets.
Will I ride it? Someday … hopefully … assuming I can get there, and the queues will be reasonably sized. I mean, ten-hour waits are a lot of time to dedicate to this. However, the mobile game is far more accessible.
WIZARDS UNITE – THE AR MOBILE GAME
I’ve only been playing this for a few days, so I’m going to properly mull my thoughts over in a few months and possibly give it more attention later on.
But from what I’ve seen, it’s OK. It continues in creating a more immersive story-world for the player. The YouTube trailer actually made it look really promising – with some mysterious force bringing magical people and creatures to our world.
It feels like there could be an actual antagonist at work … one that isn’t Voldemort.
As for my first impressions, it’s a role-playing game, where you choose to be either a Professor, Auror, or Magizoologist. (I chose the last one because it sounded coolest and is basically a magic Pokémon trainer.)
As with Pokémon Go, you can stop at Inns and Greenhouses to get more items to help get items. There are fortresses which are essentially the same as Pokémon Go gyms where you battle other wizards.
The DNA is practically the same, and it feels a little inorganic for Harry Potter.
Pokémon Go worked because it naturally evolved the concept of catching and travelling with monsters to an updated platform.
The Wizarding World was always hidden, so being able to reveal aspects of it with AR does have potential, but the issue is making a game out of that … and also Wizards and AR tech seems odd to me.
The Harry Potter universe is just fantasy, where Wizards use owls instead of phones, the architecture seems more old-timey … I guess it’s just odd to me that we’re engaging with this old-timey world through a modern app.
But unlike Pokémon Go there is a story! Narrative, character, plot points and … it feels more like an excuse for why you’re encountering Hagrid near your house.
The premise is that it’s another Potter mystery. “Foundables” (basically just magic stuff from the franchise) have started appearing in the “real” world and you the player need to figure out why. So, go out and catch ‘em all!
The interesting thing is this game appears to take place in the Cursed Child era. The character models look visibly older than their film counterparts, and we can assume that it’s modern day … this feels a little jarring as the Fantastic Beasts stuff, with a similar premise of Newt Scamander losing his monsters, was the premise for the first instalment.
So, the same premise and lack of connection with the narrative seems a little head scratching.
But hopefully as I continue, I hope … I really hope to uncover why and how this is happening like an actual first-person mystery you’re trying to solve.
Otherwise, I’m quite happy travelling the world with my Pokémon.
AESTHETIC MAGIC AND STORY PROBLEMS
One of the things that does bug me is the disconnect between the stories, games, and aesthetics. It’s a fun world, but that’s really all it is sadly. I was very disheartened to see that the mobile game is actually a separate conflict to the one in Fantastic Beasts, and that there was real potential in bringing these two things closer together.
The strange thing is, it’s the story that’s the Achilleas heel. Without good content, why invest?
I don’t know how I’d save the Wizarding World story. Perhaps experimenting more with genre could work in a spherical storytelling manner could work.
We could see a muggle scientist stumble into the magic world. She meets someone fascinated by technology … like a mobile phone app perhaps. They both want to bring their worlds closer together – whilst also setting up an original perspective on the franchise. Perhaps a tie-in series or movie that goes beyond the Dumbledores, Scamanders, and prequel Easter Eggs.
Sure, you can find a niffler at Tower Bridge, but there could be so much more to explain what’s going on.
These are just suggestions, but I think adopting a broader formula of mixing genres could breathe new life into a story that many aren’t engaging with. Virtual creatures and Fantastic Beasts are appealing, but that’s really the only synergy we have between these platforms – and it sadly feels aesthetic.
In shoring up this weak link, there is even greater potential in exploring different avenues of storytelling – especially if we actually had a Wizard want to engage more with muggle technology; really bring things together.
But as it stands, the franchise thrives through the fans and aesthetics alone: Studio Tours, Pottermore, Roller Coasters – all fun experiences, but not a story.