Harry Potter Theme Park: Why Orlando, Not London?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/23/2010 12:09:00 AM
London Mayor Boris Johnson is known far and wide as a loose cannon who unloads on friends and foes alike with regular abandon. A few days ago, he took aim at American politicians taking turns demonizing BP and hurting British pension funds and pensioners who rely on its stock and dividends, respectively. Given that BP has agreed to set aside £20 billion to cover potential damages, he's turned his attention to that poster boy of continued British influence in pop culture, the 'Harry Potter' franchise.

Apparently Orlando, Florida--the theme park capital of the world--has stolen a march on London for it has just opened a Harry Potter attraction inside of the Universal Studios theme park. In his regular Daily Telegraph op-ed, Boris Johnson urges Londoners to petition for the creation of a UK-based venue. After all, there is nothing inherently British about Orlando, Florida (or am I missing something?) Unfortunately, some good points are mixed with factually challenged points: Brits invented the Internet? EuroDisney is profitable? You must be joking that this sort of writing is worth the £250,000 'chicken feed' they're paying him...
You know, sometimes I don't understand what's wrong with us. This is just about the most creative and imaginative country on earth – and yet sometimes we just don't seem to have the gumption to exploit our intellectual property. We split the atom, and now we have to get French or Korean scientists to help us build nuclear power stations. We perfected the finest cars on earth – and now Rolls-Royce is in the hands of the Germans. Whatever we invent, from the jet engine to the internet [!--Tim Berners-Lee didn't invent the Internet but perhaps the World Wide Web], we find that someone else carts it off and makes a killing from it elsewhere. And now, in the crowning insult, I am being told by a 12-year-old that I have to start making preparations to take everyone to Orlando, Florida.

I want you to know that I have nothing against Orlando, though you are, of course, far more likely to get shot or robbed there than in London. In general I adore America. But I deeply and bitterly resent that Orlando is about to become the official place of pilgrimage for every Harry Potter fan on earth. On the 18th of this month they are unveiling a vast 20-acre attraction – a theme park – that will be called The Wizarding World of Harry Pottere_STmk, and the word in the industry is that it is gonna be huge. There will be animatronic whomping willows and exhilarating interactive quidditch-style rides, and vast latex-covered Hagrids rolling bonhomiously down the street.

In the words of Mr Thierry Coup of Warner Bros: "We are taking the most iconic and powerful moments of the stories and putting them in an immersive environment. It is taking the theme park experience to a new level." And of course I wish Thierry and his colleagues every possible luck, and I am sure it will be wonderful. But I cannot conceal my feelings; and the more I think of those millions of beaming kids waving their wands and scampering the Styrofoam turrets of Hogwartse_STmk, and the more I think of those millions of poor put-upon parents who must now pay to fly to Orlando and pay to buy wizard hats and wizard cloaks and wizard burgers washed down with wizard meade_STmk, the more I grind my teeth in jealous irritation.

Because the fact is that Harry Potter is not American. He is British. Where is Diagon Alley, where they buy wands and stuff? It is in London, and if you want to get into the Ministry of Magic you disappear down a London telephone box. The train for Hogwarts goes from King's Cross, not Grand Central Station, and what is Harry Potter all about? It is about the ritual and intrigue and dorm-feast excitement of a British boarding school of a kind that you just don't find in America. Hogwarts is a place where children occasionally get cross with each other – not "mad" – and where the situation is usually saved by a good old British sense of HUMOUR. WITH A U. RIGHT? NOT HUMOR. GOTTIT?

I know that Thierry and everyone at Warner Bros and Universal will do a magnificent job of making it look and feel authentic and faithful to the stories. But I know somewhere that's even better than Orlando at looking like London – and that is London. I want to know why this Kingdom of Potter is not being built in the UK, and I won't be fobbed off with any nonsense about the weather. They built Eurodisney in the Valley of the Marne, where it is at least as cold and drizzly as it is in London – and it has been a triumphant success...

My point is that this Potter business has legs. It will run and run, and we must be utterly mad, as a country, to leave it to the Americans to make money from a great British invention. I appeal to the children of this country and to their Potter-fiend parents to write to Warner Bros and Universal, and perhaps, even, to the great J K herself. Bring Harry home to Britain – and if you want a site with less rainfall than Rome, with excellent public transport, and strong connections to Harry Potter, I have just the place.
Boris Johnson also neglected to mention that public transportation in London is horrendously expensive, but hey, after two whoppers about the Internet and Eurodisney, who's keeping score other than me?