Top 5 magical moments from Universal Orlando's Harry Potter Celebration

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Feb 2, 2016, 12:02 PM EST (Updated)

Even Muggle-borns had to notice that Universal Orlando became a very magical place this past weekend when Harry Potter fans descended on the theme park for a three-day celebration. The third Celebration of Harry Potter, dedicated to J.K. Rowling’s books and movie adaptations, included panels, talent Q&As (with actors Rupert Grint, Matthew Lewis, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch and Katie Leung), wand demonstrations, prop displays, screenings, an expo -- and, of course, a lot of butterbeer consumed by thousands of cosplayers at the Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade attractions.

I had the good fortune of joining the magical ranks and engaging with a fandom that appears stronger than ever, despite the final book being published nearly nine years ago and the final movie released about five years ago. But with so much happening in the wizarding world this weekend, what cast the best spells? Let’s break down the five most magical happenings from A Celebration of Harry Potter 2016 to ripple through the Muggle world.


Behind the scenes of Fantastic Beasts

A new behind-the-scenes clip of the Potter prequel/spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them debuted at the celebration Saturday night. Featuring brief interviews with actors Eddie Redmayne (“Newt Scamander”), Katherine Waterston (“Tina Goldstein”), Alison Sudol (“Queenie Goldstein”) and Dan Fogler (muggle “Jacob Kowalski”), as well as director David Yates (who helmed the final four Potter movies) and producer David Heyman. Arriving in 1920s New York City, Redmayne’s magizoologist accidentally releases magical creatures, and the clip shows some of the destruction wrought by them. The clip doesn’t reveal much new footage, but we learn Queenie and Tina are sisters while Jacob is a Muggle (or “No-Maj”) baker. The film, adapted from Rowling’s first screenplay, certainly looks like the world we know from the Potter movies, but also appears fresh and different. And, based the crowd reaction, fans are ready to return to the wizarding world which Redmayne called "imagination taken to the extreme."

Bonus: In a group interview conducted separately with Harry Potter propmaster Pierre Bohanna, we learned Newt's movie wand has lime wood, shell, bone and other elements to reflect his consideration of animals. 


New wizarding schools announced

Actor and super-fan Evanna Lynch, better known as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies, took the stage Saturday with a handful of pages written by J.K. Rowling, and proceeded to read off big reveals about the magical landscape. Rowling has established there are 11 wizarding schools part of the International Confederation of Wizards, but she introduced four new ones: Ilvermorny (North America), Castelobruxo (Brazil), Uagadou (Africa), and Mahoutokoro (Japan). Rowling, via Lynch, shared scant details on the North American school, but discussed the strengths, locations, and appearances of the other schools. For instance, Lynch seemed especially excited about the robes of Mahoutokor attendees, which grow and change color as a student gets older and more experienced. The robes also have a built-in dark magic detection system, and turn a disgraceful white if a student dabbles in illegal practices. Lynch pointed out that that would have prevented a Voldemort at Hogwarts. Meanwhile, the students at Uagadou don’t use wands, but instead cast spells through hand gestures. In particular, I was intrigued by Rowling’s words that "smaller and less well-regulated institutions have come and gone, are difficult to keep track of, and are rarely registered with the appropriate Ministry." Perhaps that means there are fringe schools out there we’ll hear more about. Details about all of the schools live on the Pottermore, with no doubt more information forthcoming.


Behind the scenes of the eighth Harry Potter story

Also on Saturday, Celebration audiences were treated to a behind-the-scenes clip of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the London stage production announced in October 2015. The two-part play will be the eighth Harry Potter story (“19 years later”), and focus on Harry’s son, Albus. In the video, producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender gave a tour of the gothic Palace Theatre, opened in 1891. Friedman said the venue has a mysterious air to it, “like walking into Hogwarts,” and was the only theater right for the May 2016 production. Based on a story by Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany – with set design by Christine Jones and composition by Imogen Heap – the two parts will play out in the same day, with audiences in the same seats, which Friedman said will build a community. Not much was revealed, per se, but the video introduced the accomplished people working on the show, and seemed to convey a message that fans can trust this production.


The state of the wizarding world is strong

The Harry Potter celebration had an almost Star Wars vibe to it, in terms of world-building announcements and fan outreach. The wizarding world introduced less than 20 years ago is certainly expanding, and under the watchful eye of creator Rowling. I got the sense that there are a lot of stories (and likely future movies and multimedia projects) on the way. Already richly textured, Rowling's universe is frequently acquiring further details, which then allows fans to become more personally connected to it with a customized experience. Of course, that also means more merchandise for those fans to purchase to show off their unique wizard personalities. And there doesn't seem to be enough Potter out there for fans to engage with. At the Celebration expo, a scaled-down version of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in England -- which features a wand-making prop shop, actual costumes and make-up from the movie, etc -- drew long lines. Meanwhile, it was announced the traveling Harry Potter exhibition, launched in Chicago in 2009, will be heading to Brussels. That announcement, made by mustachioed actor Matthew Lewis (formely "Neville Longbottom" and current heartthrob) excited audiences due to the fact that a Pottermore user would be selected as an official on-camera correspondent for the grand opening. Finally, since Universal Hollywood will be opening its Hogsmeade attraction this April, I couldn't help but view this celebration as something of a dress rehearsal for that big event, which will also attract Potter loyalists by the plenty. And I wouldn't be surprised if that West Coast Hogwarts will be the setting for another Harry Potter Celebration, or even allow the two parks to alternate event years. But that is wild speculation. The big takeaway is that the wizarding world is in very magically healthy shape, and will not be disapparating any time soon.


I am a Slytherin (and a lot of Rickman love)

Maybe this isn't big news, and likely not shocking to anyone who knows me, but I was "officially" sorted into House Slytherin this weekend by the chatty Sorting Hat. Aside from liking the color green, and being a fan of snakes, I am pleased to join Slytherin as it is led by Severus Snape, played by Alan Rickman. The love for the actor, who recently passed away, was great and on full display. A video tribute of Snape's best film moments played throughout the celebration, and I counted a half-dozen tribute tee-shirts. In an interview with press, Grint shared that he once drew a picture of Rickman for a scene in potions class, "and it wasn't the most flattering portrait." He said he remembered feeling Prof. Snape breathing down his neck, watching him draw, and he was "absolutely terrified." Later, Grint learned Rickman had kept the picture. Lewis reflected on the warmth and gravitas the actor carried with him, and Wright said he stayed in the Snape character from the moment he got out of the car in the morning. She said that inspired her to be professional. Adding to that, Lynch said he never underestimated Snape, nor treated the children's book character in a childish way. 

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