The Wizarding World of Harry Potter just opened at Universal Studios Hollywood. MTV News’s Ira Madison III and Amy Nicholson went to a sneak preview earlier this week to check out the brilliantly branded magic of J.K. Rowling's universe coming to life.
Ira Madison III: When I first found out we were going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I'll admit I was low-key ecstatic. I've always had a fondness for Harry Potter, but it had never boiled over into obsession. I saw the first three films before I read any of the books. Then I started with Goblet of Fire. But I remember working at Barnes and Noble on the eve of The Half-Blood Prince's release and leaving the store at 2 a.m. to start reading. I finished it in a dentist's chair the next day, sobbing when Dumbledore died. All of those memories came back to me the minute I stepped into this real-life Hogsmeade. Which is weird, because my house is Slytherin (officially sorted by Pottermore), and we're far from emotional.
Amy Nicholson: To be honest, Ira, if I’d known you were Slytherin ahead of time, I’d have been more nervous about exploring Hogwarts with you in the dark. I’m a Ravenclaw, a.k.a. That House Everyone Forgets. Which is why my favorite part of our arrival, during that half-hour of speeches we had to listen to before getting to drink any Butterbeer, was when Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti stood up for my people. “I always wanted to be Gryffindor,” he admitted. (Yeah, him and every other valedictorian.) “But I am a Ravenclaw.” It’s weird: I’d barely identified with my house before. But when L.A.’s hipster mayor said he was in the same house, I swelled with pride. Perfect timing, as the Wizarding World sold 700 ways I could rep my Ravenclaw fam: beanie hats, bedazzled sweatshirts, giant mugs. It’s genius, like they looked at how Disney made a fortune getting girls to dress up as their favorite princess and thought, “Dude! Gryffindor swag is coed!” You got a Slytherin scarf, pin, and keychain -- how’d you feel parading that you’re a little bit evil?
Madison III: It's a badge of honor, to be honest. Some people ironically try to pretend they're Slytherins, like Mindy Kaling, but I embrace all sides of my snake heritage. We're not bad, but we're darkly ambitious. And also, you're not that different from me. Because when we went to Ollivanders, we were both told that an Alder wand fit our personalities, ma'am.
Nicholson: You wanna team up and take over the world? Done. But first, can we get some Butterbeer, ’cause that stuff was sweet, sweet sugar magic. And it came in liquid and frozen -- I don’t think that’s Potter canon, but since L.A. is 40 degrees hotter than England during the summer, I’ll take it. Love that when I asked a wizard what was in it, he said, “Diabetes.” The Beertenders had clearly been asked 500 times if the Butterbeer was made with actual beer before we asked for the 501st time.
Madison III: It's nonalcoholic, sadly, but the Butterbeer is excellent. I can't confirm or deny that it tastes even better with a shot of Maker's Mark, but use your imagination.
Nicholson: Wait, our bosses might be reading this. Good thing we both got wands. I know the memory-erasing spell: "Obliviate!" That wand shop, by the way, was aces. Wizarding World hired Stuart Craig, the production designer for all eight Harry Potter films, to create the town, and the wand store was a perfect example of how to do it. It wasn’t set up like a normal store, with wands presented in neat rows the way they’d look at Target. Instead, they were crammed nonsensically into cubbyholes that only the Wand Advisers could navigate. It reminded me of asking the librarian to find a book when I was 4 years old. There’s no price tags on anything. There is, however, a sticker that reads: “Not a Toy.” Wait, really? What is it? A weapon?
Madison III: What it is is expensive. I bought the Alder wand, because you need a wand to do magic around the park — levitation spells, incendio spells — but 50 bucks for that is quite the price tag. Bring your wallets, parents. It was worth it, though. There's nothing like being in the park, especially at night, waving a wand and actually seeing magic happen. I felt like a kid for a brief moment and I was like, damnit, I really do love this franchise.
Nicholson: Ditto. When Harry Potter composer John Williams came out to lead the L.A. Philharmonic on the rocks below Hogwarts, I got a little misty. Watching this white-bearded legend wave his conductor baton was like seeing a real-life Dumbledore with a magic wand. It was a good pause, because when I’m at a theme park, I turn into a Type-A 1950s dad who believes in Maximizing Efficiency. I want to ride every ride and see everything you gotta see. As soon as they opened the gates to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, it was like, “IRA WE HAVE TO WALK FAST AND IT DOESN’T MATTER IF WE TRIP THAT DUDE IN A HUFFLEPUFF HAT.”
Madison III: I'm definitely of the leisurely take-my-time variety when it comes to theme parks. Also, I totally teared up a bit at John Williams's conducting. I went home and listened to the score (and then the score to The Force Awakens) for good measure.
Nicholson: The path winding up to the actual ride, a tour of the halls of Hogwarts, was designed for lingering (or, really, for standing around patiently for an hour). I almost wanted to slow down to soak in all the details -- all the bottles and books in Dumbledore’s office, the bickering portraits, the maps and potions. Almost. I was in such a hurry to get on that ride that I didn’t realize the operators forgot to give me a pair of 3-D glasses, so the whole experience was a literal blur. At least some monsters weren’t CG. There were huge spiders and legit-scary Death Eaters. I could swear one of the spiders spit on me, but I also swore a pirate spit on me the first time I went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride when I was 5, and after having ridden that 45 more times, I’m convinced I must have hallucinated it. The ride was super-rad. What I’ll remember most, though, was the thrill of race-walking through a brand-new ride and touching random bricks like, “I am the first visitor to ever touch this exact brick.”
Madison III: Funny thing about the rides. They are not designed for large adults. I'm, like, 6-foot-3 and there's maybe one ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain I can't fit on. But I did not fit on the 3-D Hogwarts ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, at all. Maybe it could have worked, but I was quickly pulled off it when I couldn't be locked in quickly. I did manage to fit on the 10-second ride Flight of the Hippogriff, but my legs were cramped as hell. It's a good thing I could enjoy myself drinking Butterbeer and doing magic across the park, because as far as the rides go, paradise is not for me.
Nicholson: Yeah, that was bizarre. I mean, L.A. is home to two basketball teams — what, they don’t want a photo op of 6-foot-10 Blake Griffin riding a griffin? According to the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh, six-foot L.A. Clipper Chris Paul is a Slytherin. Maybe he can make the park accessible for all his tall cronies.
Madison III: Bless. Where's the magic, J.K.? Can you make it so I can actually fit on the rides in your theme park?
Nicholson: I think the spell y’all want is “Engorgio!”