4:56pm PT by Chris Gardner
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Opens With Steven Spielberg, Fireworks and L.A. Phil
Standing atop a stage with an impressive re-creation of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as his backdrop, Universal Studios Hollywood President Larry Kurzweil waved a magic wand and shouted, "Incendio!" The fire-making spell — used many times throughout the Harry Potter franchise — worked, of course, and a flash of fire nearly 20 feet high flew toward the sky to the left of the stage.
"Incendio! Incendio! Incendio!" he repeated, and each time, the wand conjured a sequence of well-timed special effects. "That is so cool," smiled Kurzweil, who had the honor of welcoming VIP guests and international press to the opening night of the highly anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at his Universal Studios.
Kurzweil came first in a night that included a total of five speeches from high-ranking partners on the massive project, including (in order of remarks) Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Universal Parks & Resorts; Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal; Kevin Tsujihara, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment; and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Larry Kurzweil, Kevin Tsujihara, Ron Meyer, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Tom Williams, Mark Woodbury, Steve Burke and Steven Spielberg attend the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 5, 2016, in Universal City, Calif. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)
Each delivered remarks on topics ranging from the importance of the attraction in Universal's history to how the park is destined to boost tourism in L.A. (More on that later.) And following words from top brass, guests looked up in amazement as John Williams conducted the L.A. Philharmonic in an exclusive performance while fireworks lit up the sky surrounding Universal City.
No Harry, Ron or Hermione, but five other faces from the films were in attendance on Tuesday night: Warwick Davis (Prof. Flitwick), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), James Phelps (Fred Weasley) and Oliver Phelps (George Weasley). Mindy Kaling, Vanessa Hudgens, Billy Bob Thornton, Ed O'Neill, Mario Lopez, Chris Hardwick and Thandie Newton also showed up to celebrate and rub elbows with major studio players, including Steven Spielberg.
Perhaps the most glaring absence of the night, however, was that of J.K. Rowling, the brain behind the blockbuster franchise produced from her seven original books. Tsujihara of Warner Bros. — home to her Harry Potter films — told the crowd why she couldn't make it to toast the third Wizarding World themed attraction (the others are located in Osaka, Japan, and Orlando, Fla.). "None of this would be possible without the creative genius of Jo Rowling," he noted. "Unfortunately, she is unable to join us tonight, but she sends her warm regards. Jo has actually been very busy working on a project that continues the magic of the Wizarding World with new characters and all-new adventures."
That project is Warner Bros.' upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, released worldwide on Nov. 18, he said. "But as you can see around us, you don't have to wait until then to enjoy the magic," said Tsujihara, who joked that, on a personal note, he is glad the attraction is finally open so that when his own children "need a Harry Potter fix," they don't have to get on a plane to the other locales. "This is a much closer drive from La Canada."
The new section of the park — opened to the public for several weeks during a soft-opening period ahead of its April 7 official opening — basically serves as Kurzweil's backyard. "It's really hard not to feel the emotional charge that has steadily built up to this evening for our team," he said, before honoring the big names that came before him — Carl Laemmle and Lew Wasserman, who helped introduce the studio-lot experience to movie lovers.
"When we first announced that Hogwarts was coming to Hollywood, we knew this powerful idea would be the perfect addition to our iconic movie studio property," said Kurzweil. "Five years later, this magical village, cast against the dramatic backdrop of L.A.'s snow-peaked mountains, is the ideal setting for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter."
It's a world that would not have happened without Williams; Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative; Meyer; and Warner Bros.' "masterful wizard" Alan Gilmore, supervising art director of Wizarding World, said Kurzweil. He then noted that, with the support of Comcast and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, Universal Studios has "completely changed" since the initial announcement five years ago. The property has been changed 75 percent, he added.
Notable features of the Wizarding World include Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the land's signature 3D-HD ride; the family roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff; authentic food and beverages at locations including Three Broomsticks and Hog's Head pub; and eight retail venues including Honeydukes, Ollivanders wand shop and Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods. (Though pricey, the $47 wands available at Ollivanders are sure to be a big draw for guests.)
For his part, Meyer explained that the park reveals an "unprecedented investment into our company's future," one that could not have been done without "exemplary leaders in our city and county." He praised the attraction as one that could "dramatically increase tourism" in the city, before turning his attention to Spielberg.
"I couldn't let this evening go by without mentioning Steven Spielberg, who is with us tonight and who is a faithful friend to both me and the company," said Meyer. "For the past 40 years, Steven's vision has been an intricate part of our theme parks and film studio, and all of us at NBCUniversal are forever grateful."
Mayor Garcetti also seemed grateful that the park potentially could increase tourism with visitors across the U.S. and worldwide. He also seemed at home at the podium, charming guests by speaking Spanish and cracking jokes like this: "I'm not sure if any of you took L.A.'s own Hogwarts Express — also known as the Metro Red Line — but we encourage you to do that as often as possible."
After the remarks concluded, it was Williams' turn to wow the crowd with the L.A. Phil. And following the fireworks-laden finale, VIP guests were allowed to roam the park, ride the rides and fill their plates at various buffets featuring Wizarding World cuisine, desserts and beverages (yes, everything from Butterbeer to shepherd's pie).
Borrowing Kurzweil's earlier compliment, one guest bragged, "This is so cool."
Mindy Kaling attends the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood on April 5, 2016. (Photo by: Kevin Winter/Universal Studios/NBCU Photo Bank)