If you’d like to see the differences between Disney and Universal’s treatment of the most popular film franchises in their theme parks, illustrated in one photo, here you go:
Can you imagine a Universal Studios T-shirt depicting Voldemort on the Caro-Seuss-el? Or Minions in wizard robes? It’s impossible to imagine J.K. Rowling allowing such trivialization of the Wizarding World and its inhabitants.
But George Lucas long has shown a great acceptance of irreverence toward his Star Wars characters. After all, you can’t greenlight the Star Wars Holiday Special if you’re taking your characters too seriously. Let’s not forget other examples of Lucas and his team poking fun, or at least allowing others to poke fun, at the Star Wars universe: the Stand Up to Cancer spoof, Death Star PR, Spaceballs, and possibly the most irreverent officially-blessed Star Wars take-off ever, Disney’s Hyperspace Hoopla. There’s some great stuff about Lucas’ tolerance, and even enthusiasm, for spoofs in the new book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, and author Chris Taylor talked in an interview with The New Yorker about how a desire to be more serious in the prequels weighed down the “effervescent giddiness” of the original films.
In contrast, perhaps the closest that J.K. Rowling, with her drier British wit, has come to satirizing her creation was a guest appearance on “The Simpsons” that made fun of her fans more than her works. Sure, there’s abundant humor in the Harry Potter world, but even when a gag takes you out of that world (hello, “spell-o-tape,” a joke that about 1 in 100 Americans gets), it’s never reduces the Wizarding World to tropes like putting Darth Vader in a Space Mountain rocket.
The irony, of course, is that traditionally it’s been Universal that’s been known for abundant irreverence and sarcasm in its theme park attractions while Disney has properties with much more earnest respect. If there were any doubt that we’re living in a moment when franchises dominate the theme park industry, let’s consider these examples of Star Wars and Harry Potter — franchises so powerful that they made Disney irreverent and Universal take something seriously.