Islands of Adventure

The Velocicoaster at Universal

Is Jurassic Park Disney or Universal? Inside the ‘real’ theme park

We theme park enthusiasts occupy a strange place in pop culture. 

For example, I find myself actively rooting for the new Avatar movies to do well. 

Why? Do I have a vested interest in the success of noted mini-sub advocate and director of major blockbusters James Cameron? 

I do not. 

But I like Pandora, The World of Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Therefore, I hope the movies do well enough to give Disney a reason to invest more and expand that section of the park. 

Likewise, I hope the Jurassic World movies do well. 

Am I such a big fan of the Jurassic Park franchise? Well I, like most people, enjoyed the first movie in the film series. Additionally, I really liked the Michael Crichton book, but I can’t say I’m overly attached to the ongoing movies. 

I think I’ve seen them all, except the latest “Jurassic World Dominion” which I’m sure I’ll stream at some point. 

But, despite the tepid critical reaction to the latest movies, we need them to make money to keep the theme park’s potential. 

Raptors at Velocicoaster
The line for the Velocicoaster ride features life-like raptors (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Jurassic Park Disney or Universal? 

The general rule of thumb is if it’s a Steven Spielberg property, it’s Universal.

But if it’s George Lucas, it’s Disney World. Now, Indiana Jones is more Spielberg than Lucas, but there’s just enough Lucas in there to get Indy to Disney. 

Who owns Jurassic Park? 

For film and TV purposes, it’s Universal and Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment with its ET logo. 

For theme park purposes, the rights to the Jurassic Park franchise and the characters and themes from the Jurassic World movies belong to Universal Orlando.

And – for the record – the Jurassic Park section of Universal’s Islands of Adventure is pretty awesome.

Jurassic Park: The River Adventure Ride at Universal Orlando
Riders will get wet on the Jurassic Park River Adventure Ride at Universal (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

The Jurassic Park section at Islands of Adventure 

I think it’s the best section of either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Orlando that’s not a Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

First of all, Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade’s fake snow is incongruous with the Florida heat.

However, Isla Nublar – home to many of the Jurassic Park shenanigans – is a perfect fit for Florida. The Jurassic Park world is immersive and it doesn’t even have to try that hard. 

The Jurassic Park section also offers the best variety of rides in one section of the park. From the Jurassic Park River Adventure to the for-kids-only Pteranodon Flyers to the amazing roller coaster aka the Jurassic World Velocicoaster, there is plenty of amusement to be had in this part of the amusement park. 

Read Also: Universal height requirements: How tall do you have to be for rides?

Camp Jurassic Universal Orlando
The Camp Jurassic play area is fun and offers shade in the summer heat (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Does Jurassic Park have anything for the kids?

The Camp Jurassic play area – under the Pteranodon Flyers – is fun and comfortable and shady. The Jurassic Park Discovery Center is informative – and air-conditioned.

The game area is entertaining with decent dinosaur prizes. The restaurants are … fine but probably the weakest link in the Jurassic Park DNA sequence. 

Also, Jurassic Park has what is consistently the best character encounter in the park – maybe in all of Orlando – the Velociraptor Encounter. 

At this point, we’ve been taught to fear the velociraptor since Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant took a velociraptor claw and scared the bejesus out of a mouthy kid who was talking guff at a fossil dig in the Badlands. 

The raptor experience at universal
The Baby Raptor Encounter on our visit made my wife run in fear (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

What is the Raptor Encounter?

We did baby Raptor Encounter and the big animatronic guy, too. It was fantastic. It felt enough like a real dinosaur that my wife – MY WIFE – ran in fear.

She bolted despite knowing exactly what the robot was going to do and being warned by the raptor handler. 

The only thing I wanted, though, was more character interactions. If Universal can pay a guy to act like imminent physicist Dr. Emmett Brown or Beetlejuice, then surely we can get somebody out here to do some credible Jurassic Park characters. 

In fact, here are my suggestions in reverse order of preference. 

Read Also: What characters are at Universal Studios? 13 best experiences

10. Dr. Ian Malcolm originally played by Jeff Goldblum

Dr. Malcolm is a supporter of chaos theory, wearer of unbuttoned shirts and maker of inappropriate advances on colleagues.

The only reason I rank Malcolm so low is that I believe it’s impossible to pull off. There is only one Jeff Goldblum. So while I wouldn’t put it past him to randomly show up at the park in character, you can’t expect some kid trying to make his acting bones in at Universal to pull it off.

The character didn’t survive in the original book. But he made it in the movie. Crichton also brought him back for the second book, “The Lost World”. Therefore, the rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated. 

Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Laura Dern at a Jurassic Park event
Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt and Laura Dern make an appearance at a “Jurassic World Dominion” event in 2022 (photo by Joe Seer/shutterstock.com)

9. Claire Dearing originally played by Bryce Dallas Howard

Claire is a CEO-type who is a little too loosey-goosey with her nephew’s whereabouts at a theme park full of living dinosaurs. And also, she’s a wearer of impractical shoes.

I like Bryce Dallas Howard a lot. She has proven to be an excellent director of Star Wars TV shows. However, she wasn’t given much to work with in the Jurassic World movies. In that way, it might be easier for a local actor to pick up the portrayal. I just don’t think many people are going to care. 

8. Dr. Alan Grant originally portrayed by Sam Neill

Excellent remover of sunglasses, not a fan of children and inappropriate paramour of a significantly younger colleague. It’s a tough act to pull, being a character that is stern with children in an amusement park.

For example, we once encountered a Disney Mary Poppins who was playing the character’s prim and proper side.

My daughter Ainsley, who was around two at the time, rejected the premise entirely. Specifically, she told Mary Poppins what she thought and stormed off to the side to wait while the older two got their pictures with Mary. 

7. Owen Grady originally played by Chris Pratt

Grady shares a surprisingly – maybe disturbingly so – strong bond with beloved velociraptor Blue. While saying things completely inappropriate for the workplace and making improper advances on his boss, he somehow maintains enough charisma to lead a team of raptors while riding a motorcycle.

We did a meet and greet at Disney with an actor playing Pratt’s Starlord character. Owen Grady isn’t that far from Starlord. This is the first one I consider doable.

Jurassic Park Discovery Center
Jurassic Park could use a few more character interactions. Pictured above: The Jurassic Park’s Discovery Center at Universal (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

6. Dr. Ellie Sattler originally played by Laura Dern

This triceratops veterinarian isn’t afraid to go armpit deep in a monstrous pile of poo while being ogled by Jeff Goldblum – who was clearly not in character for that scene.

She is a capable scientist who can outrun velociraptors. I feel like an educational meet and greet with Dr. Satler in the Discovery Center would go like gangbusters. 

5. John Hammond originally played by Richard Attenborough

Hammond is a P.T. Barnum type crossed with Walt Disney shyster who weaseled his way to financing the original park. He’s a sparer of no expense and another character who passed in the book but survived the first movie. 

Surely there are some mall Santas running around Orlando who need work the other 11 months of the year. So we could make this a go. 

Universal's Jurassic Park Entrance
Universal’s entrance to Jurassic Park (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

4. Dr. Henry Wu originally played by B.D. Wong

Voice of some level of reason in the books, stunted character in the first movie and inexplicable bad guy in the final movies. I love B.D. Wong. I make no bones about it. He is fantastic in everything.

Crichton’s book originally came out as the public was becoming aware that the popular notion of dinosaurs as big lumbering lizards was completely wrong. While most of us understand that dinosaurs were more like birds – even feathery – Wu was the branch between creating reality and meeting expectations.

In the book, he suggests to Hammond that dinosaurs – despite having their DNA supplemented with amphibian DNA – are too real, too dangerous.

He could modify them, he suggests, making them more like the public expects big and lumbering and even more docile. Hammond won’t hear of it of course and soon lots of people are being eaten. 

In the movies, Wu eventually grows exquisite long hair and becomes a bad guy. A great character for the park. I would pose with Dr. Henry Wu all day. 

3. Dennis Nedry played by the guy who played Newman in Seinfeld

The possessor of shaving cream cans with secret compartments, he was willing to let loose an entire park of extremely dangerous dinosaurs in a tropical storm because he underbid a job. He was also a wearer of festive shirts.

Another great character to have to wander around the park, asking for directions to the docks. Have him stage clandestine meetings at the restaurants so he can yell, “We’ve got Dodgson here!”

Universal's T-Rex
Universal’s T-Rex looms over park guests, but there is room for improvement (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

2. Tyrannosaurs Rex

T-Rex, eater of goats and lawyers, the enemy of velociraptors, relentless pursuer of children and scientists and Vince Vaughn.

To quote John Hammond, yes, they have a T-Rex currently but it doesn’t do much.

I want the velociraptor tech but to use a T-Rex size model. If a 7-foot Blue can scare my wife, imagine what a 20-foot T-Rex could do. 

1. Indominus Rex

I-Rex is an all-around bad idea from people who have had decades of being unable to control dinosaurs but somehow decide to essentially make a Godzilla.

In the park, it’s the same principle as the T-Rex but bigger. If we’re truly bracing the Jurassic Park ethos, bigger is always better. 

What do you think about Jurassic Park at Universal? Let us know in the comments!

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Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios

Does Disney own Harry Potter? The Wizarding World that almost never was

Our entertainment world is dominated – for better or worse – in the never-ending search for Intellectual Property, aka IP.

Books can be turned into film series or TV shows that can move merchandise. They can also inspire theme park rides or even entire sections. 

Disney is king, of course, but things can get complicated. 

Disney landed Marvel – which has been a massive boon for its cinematic division, its merchandise division and even for its streaming service, Disney Plus (Disney+). Marvel has been a boon to Disney’s theme parks as well, but not entirely.

Due to the deal that cash-strapped Marvel agreed to before the Disney acquisition, Disney does not have theme park rights to some of Marvel’s biggest characters in locations East of the Mississippi. It’s why Universal can have an Incredible Hulk Coaster and a Spidey experience, but Disney World cannot.

It’s also why Disneyland can have an Avengers Campus without violating Universal’s rights. 

When the competition was really getting underway in the early 2000’s, Disney already had a lasting relationship with George Lucas. This meant Disney got Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Disney also had Pixar, which meant Toy Story. 

At that point, Universal, despite having Marvel for its theme park, was losing the IP war badly. 

Read Also: EPCOT vs Magic Kingdom: Which Disney park is best?

Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios
Disney’s plans for Harry Potter didn’t impress JK Rowling. Universal stepped in with a pitch for an immersive experience inside Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure. Pictured: Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios (photo by Joni Hanebutt/shutterstock.com)

Why did Disney not get Harry Potter?

Into this world stepped British author JK Rowling, who now has an estimated net worth of over $1 billion, and her magical Harry Potter books.

Warner Bros. already had film rights and was well into developing its series of Harry Potter movies (including “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”). But Harry Potter’s theme park rights were open for the right bidder. 

For a while, that bidder appeared to be Walt Disney World Resort.

Rowling signed a letter of intent with Disney in 2004. And it appeared Harry Potter would become part of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. 

What happened?

It appears, for once, the people at Disney lacked imagination.

Their proposal for Potter wasn’t so much his own land as a smaller space.

There were ideas for a couple of rides and attractions that didn’t especially stand out, maybe a magical creatures petting zoo or a small restaurant or maybe a wand shop. It seems Disney’s version of Harry Potter World wasn’t going to be that magical.  

And in a scene reminiscent of Walt Disney himself sparring with “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers, another literary resident of Britain, Rowling demanded more creative input than Disney was willing to give. 

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios
Harry Potter fans can commute between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade via the Hogwarts Express located at the King’s Cross Platform 9 3/4 (photo by RichartPhotos/shutterstock.com)

In sweeps, Universal Orlando Resort, desperate for something to drive people to their park, met Rowling’s demands for something grander. And, in 2007, Universal announced plans for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The new expansion opened to rave reviews and immediately spawned Diagon Alley, a second park expansion, which opened in 2014. 

And so, Disney, which owns massive pieces of the world’s most popular IPs, missed out on Harry Potter. 

Are Harry Potter films on Disney Plus?

The movie rights are owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment, a subsidiary of WarnerMedia.

At the time of this writing, none of the Harry Potter films are streaming on Disney+ or Netflix. You can, however, binge them on HBO Max or the NBC streaming service Peacock.

Disney World's Pandora
Disney built a similarly immersive experience with Avatar’s Pandora in Animal Kingdom (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Disney instead builds Avatar’s Pandora

However, it wasn’t a total loss. Disney saw the success of The Wizarding World and opened its eyes to something bigger. 

In 2017, Disney opened the really great Pandora, the World of Avatar in its Animal Kingdom park.

The Pandora world itself has been highly successful with only a pair of rides and a restaurant.

Today, Avatar the Flight of Passage is one of the most highly rated rides in the world.

The only hindrance to Pandora was the IP itself took a step back in the time between when Disney purchased it and when the Pandora section of the park opened.

James Cameron’s epic – which was massively successful when it opened – hasn’t shown the same longevity that other large IPs enjoyed.

Cameron has spent years working on a series of sequels that are currently in production. If Cameron is successful in turning Avatar into a massive franchise, the Pandora world will be ripe for expansion. 

Star Wars Galaxy's Edge at Disney World
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World opened in 2019 (photo by Martin/stock.adobe.com)

Disney builds another immersive land: Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

It also seems likely that without the inspiration of The Wizarding World, Disney wouldn’t have gone as far as it did with Star Wars, which it purchased outright when it bought LucasFilm in 2012 for $4 billion. 

Disney opened the impressive Galaxy’s Edge section of its Hollywood Studios Park in 2019.

Galaxy’s Edge is the premier theme park immersive land, besting even The Wizarding World to most fans. But that launch hasn’t been without issues, either.

Launching with only one of its two major rides open, Galaxy’s Edge reportedly underperformed in its early years. Some of that lack of performance is due to the park’s temporary closing in 2020.

But if crowd size is any indication, Galaxy’s Edge is now more than making up for lost time. 

The latest salvo in the IP wars – something the people at Universal have to be watching intently is Disney’s massive gamble on a Star Wars-themed hotel.

The Galactic Starcruiser is designed to emulate a landlocked cruise ship. Guests are encouraged to spend their time onboard, take advantage of the Star Wars-themed entertainment options and go “ashore” to visit Galaxy’s Edge.

Set to open in March 2022, the cruiser is only available for two-night stays. A single two-night stay will reportedly cost nearly $5,000 for two guests. 

If Disney’s ambitious gamble pays off, Universal Studios Florida could build something similar – while learning from Disney’s mistakes – for its Harry Potter world. 

Have you been to The Wizarding World at Harry Potter? Do you think Disney could have done a better job with the Harry Potter franchise? Let us know in the comments below.