The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s phase one opening in 2010 saw Universal Orlando unveil their most ambitious expansion yet, welcoming wizards and muggles alike into the magic and wonder of the Harry Potter universe.
Having since expanded into Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World now brings two iconic locations, Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Village, to life and drenches them in Florida sunshine in this immersive and all-encompassing experience that will impress even non-Potter fans.
With the Wizarding World now arguably serving as Universal Orlando’s flagship experience, it’s hard to imagine the Universal parks without these substantial expansions, but did you know that the Wizarding World was originally destined for Walt Disney World?
That’s right, Walt Disney World almost brought a whole new meaning to the word “magic” - so let’s look at Disney’s original proposal for its very own Harry Potter land and learn why this long-forgotten project never came to be.
Disney’s Original Proposal for The Wizarding World
Whispers that the beloved Harry Potter franchise could be making its way into the Orlando theme parks first began to circulate around 2003, following the enormous success of the first two Harry Potter films.
With the rights firmly in Warner Bros.’ hands, a bidding war began between The Walt Disney Company and Universal, with both companies seeking to secure the rights to J.K Rowling’s hot property.
In 2004, Rowling signed a letter of intent with TWDC and thus proposals for Walt Disney World’s Wizarding World were drawn out.
This newly proposed land would be situated in Magic Kingdom, in the area that is now known as New Fantasyland. Details of Disney’s original proposal for the Wizarding World were revealed by Disney historian Jim Hill in 2018, where he broke down the initial plans for Walt Disney World’s Harry Potter-themed expansion on his podcast.
Disney’s Imagineers went to Rowling with a handful of ideas, one of which was an attraction that would see guests board an omnimover style ride (akin to the likes of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin). However, instead of guns, riders would blast targets with a wand as they journeyed through a story inspired by a Defence Against The Dark Arts class at Hogwarts School.
The second proposed element within this land would have seen another Hogwarts class brought to life - Care of Magical Creatures. Featuring a petting zoo full of animatronic creatures, such as the beloved hippogriff, this unique attraction would serve as another immersive experience for Potter fans. To accompany these, a small quick-service location themed to the Leaky Cauldron was also planned for the area.
The potential partnership between Disney and Rowling would not last long, however, as Disney would later exit negotiations under the guise that Rowling’s creative influence over the project was too restrictive and ultimately, did not align with Disney’s plans for their Wizarding World expansion. The author was reported to be largely unimpressed by Disney’s proposal, leading her to instead partner with Universal Orlando to bring the magic of Harry Potter to the East Coast.
Disney’s loss proved a major win for Universal, as the Wizarding World’s opening led to a fairly significant dip in attendance at Walt Disney World and, long-term, Universal’s addition of the Wizarding World appears to have helped level the playing field between the two Sunshine State competitors.
With Universal Orlando fans still well and truly enamoured with the Wizarding World expansion (which most recently saw the addition of the popular coaster Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure) it's interesting to imagine a world where Disney played host to the real-life Wizarding World.
Despite their somewhat lacklustre proposal, Disney have spent the past few years showcasing their world-class standards for bringing fictional worlds to life on a big scale, with both Animal Kingdom’s Pandora - The World of Avatar and Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge considered to be the Wizarding World’s closest competitors.
Given the level of immersion and attention to detail that has been demonstrated in these newer expansions, it's fair to assume that Disney would likely have an entirely different approach to creating the Wizarding World if the deal were to be discussed today.