Home » Potter in Paris: A Peek Through the Portal into Epic Universe’s Brand New Corner of the Wizarding World…

Potter in Paris: A Peek Through the Portal into Epic Universe’s Brand New Corner of the Wizarding World…

Wizarding World

With every passing day, we draw closer to the unveiling of Universal Epic Universe. This new third gate for Universal Orlando isn’t just the first from-scratch U.S. theme park by a major operator since Disney California Adventure in 2001; it’s meant to be a major step forward for the industry.

After all, it was in 2010 that Universal accidentally rewrote the rules of a theme park by way of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – a “plucked from the screen” place where guests wanted to dine, shop, and live. Now, more than a decade later, the “Living Land” has become the de facto form of theme park expansion, from Cars Land to Pandora; Galaxy’s Edge to Super Nintendo World. And in Epic Universe, we’ll see a park entirely comprised of IP-focused “Living Lands” for the first time…

Already, we’ve provided a sneak peek into the dancing, dueling Starfall Racers anchoring the park’s celestial center; we’ve soared through the Isle of Berk to explore its stunningly unique flat ride; and we’ve explored what horrors lay hidden in the Dark Universe… Today, let’s see how Universal is hoping it can recreate the magic of the Wizarding World one last time… and in a way that might surprise you…

The Wizarding World Saga

To start, you have to think back to a time before the Wizarding World – a near impossibility given how its ripples have reshaped the industry today. When Universal first announced in 2007 that it had secured the theme park rights to build attractions based on Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter film series, the notion of licensing IP for use in theme parks was still new. Even more, before the real start of the “Content Wars” (Disney only bought Pixar that very year), no one knew how much it would matter.

No one quite knew what it would look like, either. Even when word came down that a Harry Potter themed land would replace the “Merlinwood” section of the Lost Continent land at Islands of Adventure, leaked development art suggested it would be a modest overlay; that the land’s existing Medieval shops would simply see signs switched out, and that Hogwarts “students” would mill about for meet-and-greets.

But the series’ creator, J. K. Rowling, was notoriously persnickety about how her characters and world would come to life in a theme park, insisting on some caveats that must’ve seemed unthinkable at the time. Rowling’s influence allegedly shaped the land’s final form: a painstakingly to-scale recreation of the “real” Scottish village of Hogsmeade seen in the books and films, down to the details.

That meant that the Wizarding World would throw out the conventions of the theme park. Instead of massive emporiums, it would feature tiny, cramped shops; rather than LEGO Harry Potter sets and action figures, stores would sell quills and ink, house robes, and wands; and that theme park staple Coca-Cola would be verboten, replaced with “in-universe” beverages like Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer.

The land’s anchoring ride – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – was about as much an afterthought to fans as a technological breakthrough E-Ticket can be. As grand as the attraction may have been, the Wizarding World wasn’t about a Harry Potter ride; it was about eating where the characters ate; shopping where they shopped; living like they lived! The ride was just a perk!

And of course, the “Wizarding World formula” was a smashing success whose invented rules would inspire… well… just about every theme park project since, from Cars Land to New Fantasyland; Pandora to Avengers Campus; The World of Frozen to Springfield: Home of the Simpsons. Even so, if you ask many, none have topped Universal’s Hogsmeade follow up.

It’s rare for a sequel to live up to the original, but 2014’s Diagon Alley certainly did. A chaotic, urban London shopping center for witches and wizards, the Universal Studios-set half of the Wizarding World gave guests a complete narrative arc to follow – grab your supplies in Diagon Alley, take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade. A stunning set of lands combined into one by way of an unprecedented inter-park ride, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter incarnate at Universal Orlando certainly stands as one of the strongest theme parks projects of all time…

And naturally, a new park meant a new page in the story…

Fantastic Beasts and How to Lose Them

In 2011, the theatrical release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part II officially completed Warner Bros.’ decade-long adaptation of the seven-book series with a $1.3 billion bang, bringing Potter’s box office total to $8 billion. In a way few properties do, it was clear that Potter had captured a generation and become elevated to a permanent fixture of pop culture. But with its film adaptations completed, it was also certain that Potter’s years as a box office behemoth were over.

Until maybe they weren’t. In 2013, J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. announced that they’d begun pre-production on a new film set in the Wizarding World, but decades before Harry Potter’s birth. There’s something intriguing in the promise of following an entirely new adventure in a completely new corner of the “Wizarding World” – of a low-stakes, uncomplicated adventure disconnected from the characters and story we know.

And that’s exactly what Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them sounded like. You have to remember that when Fantastic Beasts was announced, fans knew only that it would follow the exploits of explorer and “magi-zoologist” Newt Scamander on international adventures that would eventually lead him to write the textbook of the same name that would one day end up on Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s Hogwarts school supply lists – a subtle but spectacular connection to existing Potter lore.

Set in the 1920s and ’30s, the compelling idea might’ve sounded like an adventurous mix of Harry Potter lore and Indiana Jones that might see a rugged adventurer raiding magical temples, slicing through otherworldly jungles, chronicling magical creatures, and salvaging ancient relics, Tomb Raider style. When Rowling subsequently announced that Beasts had been expanded from one film to three, excitement was palpable. Then, the first movie premiered in 2016 and the results were… well… not what anyone was expecting.

We dove into the issues with Fantastic Beasts in a standalone feature, but suffice it to say that the film underperformed expectations critically and commercially… Which made it even stranger when Rowling announced that the Beasts franchise (already expanded from one film to three) would now grow again, this time to five entries that no one really seemed to be asking for…

Dampened by substantial public scandals around its stars – Ezra Miller and Johnny Depp – as well as divisive political rhetoric from Rowling herself seemingly tailor-made to betray the series’ young fans, it’s no surprise that the second and third entries (in 2018 and 2022, respectively) each yielded worse reviews and $200 fall-offs from the entry prior.

Fantastic Beasts bottomed out with 2022’s The Secrets of Dumbledore, which earned a Wizarding-World-worst of $400 million at the box office – almost certainly, a financial loss for the studio. The last two of the announced five entries are unlikely to ever be produced, meaning this Potter spin-off leaves not just a dangling, incomplete story in the lore, but an embarrassing statement on the franchise’s expansion beyond the core Potter series.

Which brings us to Epic Universe – where Universal’s third entry in the Wizarding World promises to bring us into the world of Fantastic Beasts… but with a major caveat. Want to see what we expect the newest Potter land has in store? Read on…

A Magical New Corner

Anyone who’s been involved in the design and development of a theme park project will tell you – these projects don’t happen overnight. Years and years of effort and expense are poured into every square foot of a park, from initial concept to site planning; construction permitting to vendor selection. Early work may have commenced on a project a decade or more before anyone steps foot in the finished product.

So when the first Fantastic Beasts film was announced in 2013, Universal would likely have already been working closely with Warner Bros. to plan for the series’ inclusion in their theme parks. Here, after all, was a brand new corner of the Wizarding World to explore, and a concept that could see the franchise expand beyond the places seen in Harry Potter (of which, frankly, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley pretty much represent the only “theme-park-able” ones.)

The question was, what places in Fantastic Beasts would prove to be the most “theme-park-able”?

When you think about it, that quality of adaptability to the theme park formula is rare! To be able to make the jump from screen-to-park, a place has to have a lot going for it. It has to be important and distinctive; it has to be “immersive” and “in-universe”; and, importantly, it has to be functional – with restaurants, shops, and restrooms; practically-possible elements; structures to disguise massive showbuildings from view. (Hence why Star Wars‘ Tatooine and Harry Potter’s Godric’s Hollow quickly fall off the board.)

Ah, but Fantastic Beasts would indeed offer a new corner of the Wizarding World that would be instantaneously theme-park-able. Despite serving as a “globe-trotting” series without the steadiness of a recurring, beloved place like Hogwarts, the second entry – The Crimes of Grindelwald – did offer a locale that fit the bill: Place Cachée.

Best described as Paris’ counterpart to Diagon Alley, Place Cachée (which, literally translated, means “Hidden Place” in French) differs from its British sister in some key ways. For one, this Parisian street (depicted as a spoke coming off of the Arc du Triomphe) is accessible to all – even Muggles…

…But for those magically-inclined, a bronze statue at the street’s entry would sweep away the dress hanging over its pedestal, allowing them to pass through a portal that shifted the street’s appearance to reveal its magical shops. For another, it’s barely been seen on film (and because Fantastic Beasts was an original screenplay and not based on a book, it’s scarcely mentioned in any Wizarding World canon).

Wizarding World

But from its brief appearance in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and uncovered extended lore, we do know a little about it. We know that it’s distinctly Parisian (thanks to its Mansard roofs and its views of the Arc), that it serves the school supply needs of future students of Beauxbatons (not Hogwarts), and that it’s got all the requisite shops any self-respecting Wizarding World land needs: wands from Baguettes Magiques de Cosme Acajor, Wizarding confections from Confiserie Enchantée de K. Rammelle, animal companions from Le Corbeau Mystique, cauldrons from Monsieur Sanfin Chaudrons

In other words, like its British sister, Place Cachée checks the boxes. It is indeed distinct (it both instantly communicates “Paris” and, by way of its contents, “Wizarding World”), immersive, and functional as a theme park land. It’s unique, but familiar; canon, but sketched-in and flexible; “epic”, but (like Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) quaintly dense. But of course, there’s one serious issue to contend with…

Let’s face it: despite Warner Bros. hopes, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them did not become the next Harry Potter. Neither fans nor the general public seemed to connect with this spin-off series’ cast, its pre-Potter timeline, or the new Wizarding World lore developed for it. In short, Fantastic Beasts didn’t really land, and definitely didn’t stick… Which means that neither its characters nor its locations seem very recognizable. And that left Universal in a bit of a Parisian pickle… So how did they handle it?

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Place Cachée

Of course, as of this piece’s writing, Universal hasn’t made anything about Epic Universe official outside of the single piece of highly-redacted concept art it shared at the park’s 2019 announcement (in which the upper-right-hand plot guessed to be a Wizarding World is especially difficult to interpret)… That means that technically, the existence of a third Wizarding World is strictly a rumor. (To that end, we don’t know if its name will contain “of Harry Potter” or even if “Place Cachée” will be the subheading when “Paris,” “France,” or “Montmartre” might be friendlier to English-speakers).

That said, extensive reporting by the spectacular Orlando Park Stop (who have the most complete and cohesive Epic Universe coverage online) on the unannounced land has been de facto confirmed by construction on the ground, where a French streetscape matching Place Cachée is taking shape. And thanks to their extensive and incredibly-detailed reporting, we also know something about what this land will contain…

Based on Park Stop’s reporting, this corner of the Wizarding World will indeed take us to Paris. Like all of Epic Universe’s four main lands, Place Cachée will be accessed via a portal found in the park’s central, celestial hub. (This portal could incorporate the bronze statue from the films, assuming Universal feels that it’s a recognizable enough symbol of the area, which it probably isn’t, so who knows?)

Once inside the land proper, guests will find themselves at the Arc du Triomphe with the “hidden” streetscape of Paris beyond. Given that Place Cachée is the French equivalent of London’s Diagon Alley, it’s no surprise that this street will be filled with Wizarding vendors, shops, and restaurants. (And frankly, given that Place Cachée is not discussed in the books nor heavily shown in the films), Universal has some nice leeway here to experiment with what those shops and restaurants can contain.

Like Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, you’d be smart to bet that Place Cachée will contain a high capacity restaurant (which, following the Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron formula, will likely serve hearty French Wizarding food) and plenty of shops selling in-universe wares. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this parcel of the Wizarding World stocked with Beauxbatons (and certainly, Hogwarts) robes, school supplies and Quidditch gear, plus exclusive wands (likely in uniquely triangular wand boxes), candies, and more.

Park Stop also reports that a theater will be part of the land’s main draw. Permits call for the performance space to include 642 seats. To put that in perspective, that would see this theater hold more guests than Disney’s 550-seat Muppet*Vision, but slightly fewer than the 700-seat Bourne Stuntacular at Universal Studios.

As for what will go in that theater, it’s difficult to guess. A traveling circus called the Circus Arcanus (above) plays a significant role in The Crimes of Grindelwald, and it’s easy to imagine a combination of puppetry, magic tricks, and projection making for a compelling high-capacity circus show for the land… But even if this land started life as an ode to Fantastic Beasts, we’re not sure the final product will reflect that timeline or its events… Speaking of which…

One of the strangest rumors Park Stop reported early in the initial plans for Epic Universe was that this Fantastic Beasts-centered land would contain two anchor attractions: a Fantastic Beasts ride set in the beautiful art nouveau headquarters of the Ministère des Affaires Magiques de la France (above), and a second, mega-E-Ticket attraction set in the British Ministry of Magic in London. Yes, that this land would essentially have two attractions both set in Ministries of Magic of two different countries.

Obviously, that’s a strikingly odd proposition, because even if you use a little Wizarding World “magic” to move between Paris and London, these two attractions coexisting (and being set within the Fantastic Beasts films and Harry Potter films, respectively) would also require a jump in time, from the 1920s to the 2010s.

It seems that ultimately, Universal decided to go forward with only one of the two rides meant to anchor this land. Perhaps due to the Fantastic Beasts series’ cancellation, it looks like the reported French Ministry attraction has been shelved. (However, Universal is still building the cul-de-sac and streetscape facades that would’ve served as its entry, suggesting that a second ride may come… one day.)

Instead, this Paris-set Wizarding World will be anchored by an E-Ticket ride set in London’s Ministry of Magic. At first glance, it sounds downright silly – especially since a London-set Ministry of Magic ride was long-rumored to join Diagon Alley back at Universal Studios Florida, which makes a whole lot of sense.

But our guess here is that Universal has made the call to proceed with Place Cachée, but not to explicitly set it in the 1920s and ’30s or to tie it to the happenings of Fantastic Beasts. Instead, we’re guessing that Universal’s story will be that we’re visiting the French Wizarding World during the timeline of the events of Harry Potter – nearly a full century after Place Cachée’s (brief and forgettable) appearance in The Crimes of Grindelwald.

In other words, you won’t need to know anything at all about Fantastic Beasts, its characters, its story, or its setting… You only need to know that Paris – like London – has a street of Wizarding shops, and that this land has a must-see E-Ticket adventure… What is it? Read on…

As we explore the shops of Place Cachée, we’ll quickly find that we’re visiting the Wizarding World at the right time, but the wrong place. Upon entering Place Cachée, we’ll quickly pick up that today marks the beginning of the trial against the sickly-sweet-and-sneering, love-to-hate-her Potter baddie Dolores Umbridge (interestingly, setting this ride just after the conclusion of the final film, extending Potter lore a little further than the books’ main plot.)

Naturally, the entire Wizarding World will be descending upon London to witness the historic trial for themselves. So once we’ve stocked up on wands, robes, and French Wizarding food, the looming trial will see us depart Paris by way of the recognizable green flames of the Floo Network, emerging among hordes of crowds across the English Channel in the iconic black-brick fireplace forecourt of the British Ministry of Magic itself.

Sure, technically, this ride probably should’ve been placed at Universal Studios Florida (where Diagon Alley and a London area already exist)… and indeed, it allegedly was a long-time, logical next step to add a Ministry ride to the Studio park. But let’s face it: Universal seems to have (correctly, in our opinion) decided that while Fantastic Beasts created a new corner of the Wizarding World to shop and eat in, it’s still the story of Harry Potter that people want to be a part of.

And the unlimited land of Epic Universe gives the Ministry attraction the kind of real estate it deserves…

Which, in this case, will allegedly see us join crowds of wizards and witches racing to get a front-row seat at the trial of the millennium, collected in the absolutely massive central atrium of the Ministry – sure to leave the lobby of Gringotts looking tiny in comparison. From there, guests will be hurried deeper into the Ministry down black brick hallways, passing various departments en route to the Wizengamot courtrooms seen through the film series.

At least according to the reporting of Alicia Stella at Orlando Park Stop, Universal initially planned for a mega-E-Ticket experience to occur within. In short, an early draft of the Ministry of Magic attraction would’ve seen guests pile into the iconic, concentric rings of seats making up the courtroom, facing down Dolores Umbridge herself.

However, the pink-suited Voldemort loyalist would somehow manage to release the group of Dementors that menacingly hover ever-present over the court, leading a revolt. The court stands would seem to physically break apart, revealing themselves as trackless ride vehicles that would race through the Ministry as Harry and friends seek to battle the Death Eaters and Dementors, capture Umbridge, and restore order.

Reportedly, Universal eventually decided against the trackless ride concept (perhaps part of a company-wide reluctance to use the technology after Skull Island: Reign of Kong since Hollywood’s Secret Life of Pets dark ride also axed its planned trackless tech).

It’s likely that Umbridge’s trial will remain the basis for the ride. But now, according to Park Stop, the ride system itself will be something familiar… but disguised. According to their analysis, guests will likely board one of the Ministry of Magic’s enchanted elevators, likely seated and strapped for a descent down into the further bowels of the Ministry. (In the films, these multi-directional magical elevators, after all, can move forward, backward, sideways, up, down, and everything in between.)

Once loaded, the elevator may sink down from the rotunda and enter the lower levels of the Ministry, where the elevator will unexpectedly begin to move horizontally, carrying us through hallways and rooms of the Ministry as the chaos of Umbridge’s escape spreads.

That’s because, it’s expected that the vehicle guests are sitting on will be the next generation of Universal’s iconic “SCOOP” ride system – developed for The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. This advanced version of the system may be able to telescope up and down, so that guests will not only travel through physical scenes, but will occasionally stop to raise up through various “shafts,” where projected media and quick-switch physical sets will make guests feel that they’re traveling upwards, downwards, forward, and backward through the Ministry.

Allegedly, this ride will not use 3-D glasses, but instead be filled with practical sets and Audio-Animatronics…

For example, Park Stop reports that Universal may re-use a gag it invented for the similarly-SCOOP-based Jurassic World Adventure at Universal Studios Beijing. There, a vicious Indominus rex appears to literally chase riders as their vehicle accelerated backwards (via an ultra-impressive “walking” Audio-Animatronic). If rumors are to be believed, a runaway erumpent (having escaped from the Department of Magical Creatures in the chaos) may do the same to riders here.

One thing is certain: the combination of Spider-Man’s iconic SCOOP ride system (plus a few clever innovations), the larger-than-life scale, and the post-Potter plot are all lined up to make this Ministry of Magic attraction more than just the anchor of Place Cachée. Indeed, Universal is allegedly pulling out all the stops to make this ride the ultimate Potter adventure, literally capping off the story and serving as the crescendo that began with Forbidden Journey and continued in Escape from Gringotts.

And when you think about it, allowing guests to explore a corner of the Wizarding World they’ve never seen before in Place Cachée, then to finally see the dastardly Umbridge get her just desserts… it really will be a grand finale of sorts. In this third entry, Universal will let guests live their own Wizarding World adventure by discovering a place they probably don’t recognize, but is still filled with all the treats and treasures they expect. Then, they’ll get to witness the comeuppance of the last unresolved villain from the franchise in a mega E-Ticket.

That’s a pretty great way to turn Fantastic Beast’s lemons into lemonade, and a smart way to offer a third Wizarding land for us to explore… Plus, alongside celestial coasters, flying dragons, movie monsters, and Nintendo games, it’ll be a pretty fantastic anchor attraction for Universal Epic Universe…