A former Macy’s in Chicago’s historic Water Tower Place is now the site of a massive Harry Potter interactive experience that looks to draw scores of wizards and muggles of all ages.
“Harry Potter: Magic at Play” is the newest collaboration between Warner Bros. and Original X Productions, which also has created three other traveling Harry Potter experiences, as well as the “The Friends Experience,” which is stationed in New York City. Ahead of the Nov. 11 opening, Variety was invited to tour the grounds and speak with the creative team who brought the experience to life.
Stacy Moscatelli, co-president & chief strategy officer at Original X Productions, said there were two key demos the team had in mind with this exhibition, which is filled with hands-on activities for kids that adults can engage with as well.
“The generation that grew up with Harry Potter, they’re parents now, and you never grow out of Harry Potter,” she said. “So it’s an opportunity for them to introduce the franchise to their kids on a level where they’re prepared for it — even if they’re not familiar with the stories, which a lot of 6-year-olds probably aren’t. But we didn’t want to alienate the older audiences — we wanted fans of all ages, which is hard. There were a lot of conversations trying to figure out how do we make this space activate in a way that’s appropriate for both groups.”
The three-story experience brings many scenes from the Harry Potter series to life, including the Whomping Willow, the Triwizard Maze, the Forbidden Forest, Hogwarts classrooms and the Great Hall. The hands-on experiences include testing Quidditch skills; being assigned to the proper house by the Sorting Hat; smelling, feeling and seeing the ingredients for potions and swirling them together in a cauldron; and creating custom Lego Wizards, in an installation co-sponsored by the brick company. Projection screens and super high-resolution photo backgrounds, designed to pop on camera phones, provide plenty of fodder for fans’ photos.
A staggering amount of detail is included in all corners of the exhibition, which took a team of around 500 people, from creatives to construction, to put together. The project was first greenlit in May of 2021.
Kathleen Wallis, the vice president of global themed entertainment at Warner Bros. Discovery, underlined the importance of these exhibitions compared to theme park attractions like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando and The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour in London.
“The parks are the films come to life,” she said. “You can step into those stories and those scenes. These other experiences bring something different to the table. When we were concepting what this experience would be, one of the things we looked at was, ‘How do we bring this franchise and make it more accessible to younger kids? We really don’t have anything out there that is specifically geared to younger kids.’”
The three other moving exhibitions the companies collaborate on in the Harry Potter world include “The Forbidden Forest Experience,” currently in Westchester, New York; “Harry Potter: The Exhibition,” currently in Atlanta; and “Harry Potter: A Yule Ball Celebration,” currently in Houston.
The launch of “Magic at Play” comes at a challenging time for J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World franchise, as the author has been criticized by some fans and some of the films’ cast members for controversial anti-trans tweets.
Furthermore, the fourth film in the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise, Rowling’s prequel series which was originally set to be five films, has not yet been greenlit, seemingly as a result of scandals and controversies following the third installment, which led to a franchise-low opening and middling box office performance.
Despite those speed bumps, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav discussed the potential to do “something” with Rowling on another title in the Wizarding World franchise “going forward” during the company’s Q3 earnings call Thursday.
Additionally, there are several “Fantastic Beasts” easter eggs in “Magic at Play,” including appearances from some of the cuter animals, including the mischievous Niffler and a Demiguise.
“Harry Potter: Magic at Play” will be open until May in its current location until traveling to a new city.
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