Harry Potter and the Parisian Rat (Ratatouille)
It’s been a big year for theme parks, across the world expansion has been the keyword, from New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom (Orlando), Ratatouille in Disneyland Paris’ Walt Disney Studios, and Harry Potter Diagon Alley in Universal Orlando. Now we’ve managed to visit them all and I’d like to work through some thoughts and comments.
In the show off from a boy wizard and an animated rat – theres no clear comparison, they both take the time to service two very different needs.
I’ve spoken before on the spectacular theming in Place de Remy. WDI took the time to work a Remy-esque Paris into reality in a beautiful set thats takes you on an immersive journey that leads you from the facades of Paris, to the rooftops, before riding through a technically special ride system, before finally exiting in one of the nicest restaurants on property.
Diagon Alley is the Universal move to further develop the Potter-mania franchise and expand its footprint in its parks. It’s wildly successful so far, with Universal looking to have their busiest ever year in the studios. Diagon Alley also shows real commitment from Universal to being better, real showmanship in the immersive atmosphere. No warehouse shots from the side of the attraction with this debut.
Diagon Alley sits alongside the great immersive transporting locations, Adventureland in Disneyland Paris near Pirates, New Fantasyland of the Magic Kingdom Orlando. It really does take you on a journey away from the reality of life. It’s intricate, it’s detailed, it’s expansive. It’s damn impressive. Once you turn an unassuming corner on the London front, you enter a world you cannot see from any other angle. Truly you become a wizard. It’s alive, it’s buzzing, its all new.
I took a good number of photos and found myself wandering, constantly looking further, above, beyond, behind and excitedly trying to see what else was here. I spent about 45 minutes exploring. I can’t do it justice. @CafeFantasia would have a field day, and possibly a second and third day just taking photo’s of all there is. Universal laid down a gauntlet and happily showed they can play the high quality game in placemaking.
Surely it’s not all that good? There must be a downside?
Sadly the ride is lacking. Gringotts is up first. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. The queue is expansive, outside its quite bland, a ton of switch backs, in the gardens, a few posters as you get near to the ride. One prop to keep you company for the hour you’ll wait in this one switch back. A snack bar half way is a nice touch. As you come back on yourself, you leave the queue to use a locker, a member of your party holds your spot – the official procedure is to climb/duck the fence to get back in. It shows where Universal lack the experience of Disney, either not enough lockers, no onside storage allowed (and there was plenty room and no physical reason why you couldn’t take a bag on with you), or just not thinking through how to rejoin the queue.
Inside Gringotts is spectacular, on a par with inside Hogwarts for the forbidden journey, the goblin animatronics work perfect and look real. You pass on further and into a photo room where you get a quick snap and a card to buy the picture. Identification for the bank apparently. Apart from a Harry Potter frame, theres nothing memorable about the photo, no props, no background, no characters.
Onwards and into the pre-show elevator to the vaults of Gringotts, well done to Universal for this, it’s like a mini ride within ride. Wakes you up a fair bit before, even more queueing. Again lack of experience shows here, Universal occasionally has to shut down an elevator of the two because too many people enter the “safety goggle” station – over the next 30 minutes its apparent theres no reason or logic other than a crew member using a walkie talkie to tell them not to use side B for a bit.
Load station is particularly bland. Crew members cheer at cars as they come back, causing the returning guests also to cheer, a tad forced and a tad cheap. Many simply do not respond to the crew members.
The ride. It runs a good few minutes. It’s fast moving, sharp turning and stopping. It’s the Mummy Returns ride. Two scenes have physical props, the rest is a six screen run. Unlike our friendly little Rat, Potter simply moves from one IMAX screen to another, throwing in every Potter character you can imagine. Theres no Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey type scenes with dementors leaping at you using massive set pieces. Theres no Mummy Returns real fire, props or characters. Theres no novel movement between screen. It becomes incredibly predictable.
Take the slingshot start of Rocking RollerCoaster, hit the breaks, show a 20 second video, CATAPULT to the next screen. Quick fight. Quick tour of all the characters involved in the movie. Queue Harry to save the day (in less than 6 seconds!) and done. Clapping maniac spots you and begins again. Exit.
Surprisingly, the story isn’t told as well as the movie. It’s quick and they cram in far too much during the 20 seconds. Where they excelled before and laid the way for attractions to have video and props. They’ve decided movies were good enough this time. The props in the two scenes with props are not dragons, or cars screaming towards you. Nope, they’re backgrounds, tunnels (which you don’t visit), walls, podiums.
I suppose the bench had been set high with Forbidden Journey, Mummy Returns, and Transformers. The ride was rushed.
The Hogwarts side still has the better ride. I’ll cover the Park to Park train ride on the Hogwarts express on the next post.
Boy Wizard on theming, immersivity and atmosphere. Ratatouille is a more impressive ride. Less adrenaline the latter but visually more appealing and interesting. Potter 2 wants to be a mega coaster, but is held back by the family aspect. The Rat is a family ride that accepts what it is.