a Last year, ‘A Celebration of Harry Potter’ 2014 accomplished two very important things. First, it brought the stars of the Harry Potter film series back to Universal, which causes crowds of Potter fans to flood the parks on what would normally be a slow weekend in January. Second, it was a huge promotion for the soon-to-be-opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley without giving away too many details about what was happening behind the construction walls. This year’s celebration seemed to be about continuing the Potter fandom and solidifying it as an annual event. From that aspect, this year’s ‘A Celebration of Harry Potter’ event was a complete success. The event started on January 30 at 9:00 AM when the park opened. Although nothing was happening on the main stage except for a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, guests were able to get their first glimpse inside the expo center. The expo center this year highlighted a ton of props from the Harry Potter films along with booths sponsored by Scholastic, MinaLima, Pottermore, Harry Potter: The Exhibition and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter. The Scholastic booth gave fans a chance to win an original sketch by Kazu Kibuishi, the illustrator for the Harry Potter 15th Anniversary book covers, and share what Harry Potter meant to them by signing a giant, wall-sized poster. The MinaLima booth showed off some of their pieces they created for the Harry Potter film series and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal as well as prints and stationary for sale. Eduardo Lima and Miraphora Mina even spent a good deal of time around the booth answering questions. The Harry Potter: The Exhibition booth allowed fans to read the official exhibit guide to get an idea of what you could see at the traveling exhibit, while the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter booth provided a photo opportunity. The Pottermore booth gave fans a chance to make a quick moving portrait. No theme park experience could be complete without a trip to a gift shop and there just happened to be one in the expo center with event exclusive merchandise including T-shirts, pins and mugs. Outside of the expo this year was the very popular Sorting Hat experience. Basically, a Hogwarts student asks which house you think you should be in then hovers the Sorting Hat-looking object over your head and a pre-recorded spiel gives you the answer. While it is a neat experience for massive fans, there is nothing about it that could warrant the two hour wait that was posted for it most of the weekend. The again, the wait for the expo center was also two hours for a good chunk of the weekend and fans were more than happy to wait for it as well. The main, and only, event for Day 1 was the opening ceremony featuring the film talent. Earlier in the day, Universal announced that Robbie Coltrane would be missing the event due to health issues leaving only Michael Gambon, James and Oliver Phelps and Evanna Lynch to take the stage later on. In 2014, the opening ceremony showcased the talent, Diagon Alley teasers and more. There was so much discussed on this first night that the event went on for more than an hour with the talent portion lasting nearly 40 minutes.
This year was completely different in every way. The ceremony length was around 30 minutes – the first half dedicated to teasing what was happening over the weekend and the latter half to the film talent. A red carpet was set up for the stars to make their way to the main stage, but it was completely uneventful. Evanna Lynch slowly made her way down the path, while the Phelps brothers decided to run the entire way to the stage. Michael Gambon didn’t even walk the red carpet and preferred to be driven on stage in a Ford Anglia. After the entire group was on stage and seated, a Q&A started and lasted only about 3 minutes. Overall, the “big” first night was a bit of a disappointment.
Unlike last year, the rest of the panels would be taking place on the Music Plaza stage where the opening ceremony was held. Luckily, Day 2 of A Celebration of Harry Potter started strong with a 45 minute Q&A with the film talent. At no point in time did the Q&A seem to drag on thanks to Michael Gambon’s fantastic sense of humor and Evanna Lynch consistently stepping in to help Gambon answer questions. The basic takeaway was Gambon no longer remembers anything about Harry Potter, but he knows he had a great time making the films. Over the next couple hours, fans could attend a trivia session, meet-up for a “Hogwarts house” photo, or attend the Kids’ Duelling Demonstration & Wand Masterclass with Paul Harris.
MinaLima took the main stage in the middle of the day and gave a very similar presentation to the one they put on last year. However, this year they could discuss their design work in Diagon Alley unlike last year, since they had not seen the expansion at that point.
Kazu Kubuishi followed MinaLima and had one of the best presentations during the weekend. Kazu Kubuishi, who designed the covers for the Scholastic Harry Potter 15th Anniversary edition, spent his stage time sketching to show the audience how he did his cover illustrations, but also answered questions from mostly aspiring artists. A lot of questions were focused on how to make it as an artist, but his responses were surprisingly unique. Kubuishi struck down the notion that if you pursue your passions then money and jobs will follow and instead he insisted if you are using your talent to make the world a better place then money and jobs will follow. Basically, Kubuishi impressed the audience with his sketching and gave an inspiring, motivational speech.
The night ended with another Duelling Demonstration & Wand Masterclass with Paul Harris, but this time it was for adults. Pre-selected individuals were able to take the stage with Evanna Lynch and go through the combat steps of wand duelling with the person who originally choreographed the steps. The session ended with a giant wand fight, but nothing about the panel was unique this year compared to last year.
A lot of panels happened on Day 3 including another Duelling Demonstration & Wand Masterclass with Paul Harris and a Q&A with the film talent. Two new sessions appeared on the final day – Kids’ Dance Like a Beauxbatons & Battle Like a Durmstrang and Creating the Wizarding World with Alan Gilmore, Michael Aiello and Patrick Braillard. The absolute highlight and hands down best best event of the weekend was Creating the Wizarding World. Although the panel didn’t discuss a lot of the details that went into building Diagon Alley, they did talk about how they put together the entertainment for the expansion.
The trio briefly talked about the procedure on taking the ideas of “Tales of Beedle the Bard” and Celestina Warbeck and applying them to Diagon Alley. A Q&A session followed with questions about Halloween Horror Nights being involved in the Wizarding World to the possibility of a Celestina Warbeck album being released. Part of what made this particular panel the best was anyone could walk right over to Diagon Alley right after and see everything they discussed and have a new appreciation for it.
Overall, A Celebration of Harry Potter 2015 didn’t feel like an overwhelming success. In 2014, all of the information presented seemed new and having more film talent made it seem like a bigger deal. Having Michael Gambon show up for the first time since the 2010 opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a big deal, but the Phelps brothers and Evanna Lynch have made multiple trips to Universal over the past year alone for Harry Potter. Also, Universal moved all of the panels to the Music Plaza stage in Universal Studios Florida instead of the Toon Lagoon ampitheater in Islands of Adventure, which allowed more people to watch without queueing, but led to standing for uncomfortable, long periods of time in the hot sun and a bare audience in the wide open area. That one little change made the whole event seem less important. Add on the disappointing expo with the long lines to get in and you get a weekend that was not very eventful. Yes, there were select moments that A Celebration of Harry Potter succeeded, but if it is going to come back in 2016 then something drastically different needs to be done.