I’m typing on a keyboard! Oh, glorious keyboard! Using all my fingers and not just my thumbs! It took me all week to remember that I have a computer and no longer have to post from my phone! Wondrous day!
Alright. Now that I have that out of the way, let’s talk about Britain. In fact, let’s start pretty much where we started and talk about the HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR!
I have so much to say about the Studio Tour, but I have to start with the biggest takeaway of the day. British actors are tiny. Literally almost every costume of every actor showed that they are far more petite than you realized. McGonagall? Smaller than you. Snape? Smaller than you realized. Ron? Took right up until the very end to reach normal human proportions. But Harry and Hermione? Oh my. Not just small. Not just like, “yeah, Dawn, we know actors are thin people.” It’s more than that. It’s like if you look at humans as breeds of dog and the majority of us are just average golden retriever sized. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson are like going to the actor pound and telling them you want a chihuahua. A teacup one.
They are petite. Delicate. Dainty. Pocket-sized. Minuscule.
It makes you realize why some comedians and actresses are out there getting frustrated for being called heavy when in real life they are probably smaller than you also. You just have no idea how tiny the people they have to mix with are. NOBODY CAN LOOK RIGHT NEXT TO EMMA WATSON! Retrievers and chihuahuas are just different! Do you know why they chose her to play Belle in the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie? Because she is an actual fairy princess full of fairy genes! That’s why. As you leave the studio you can put your hands into the molds of the actors hands that they made after the very last movie. My hands (admittedly oversized) were one and half knuckle lengths longer than both Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe. Not to mention wider. The pants that Daniel Radcliffe wore in the scene where he is supposed to be my age, years after he leaves Hogwarts? I couldn’t fit half my thigh into them.
I know I’m really harping on this, but I can’t express to you my surprise at how completely tiny everything was. Luna Lovegood’s yellow dress from the wedding? Looked like doll clothes.
Okay. I’m done. Let’s move to another topic. It’s still about size but in a different way. I always wondered how they portrayed Hagrid to be so much bigger than Robbie Coltrane. I figured it was a lot of camera angles and CGI. There was some of that. At least the camera angle part. However, I had no idea what was really done. They had a Hagrid suit! It was worn by an enormous ex-rugby player. That’s not all! The rugby player only came up to the shoulders. On top of those shoulders was an insanely perfect, uncanny valleyesque, animatronic Hagrid head!
That’s my second biggest takeaway from the Studio Tour. Yes, there was plenty of green screen action and CGI in the movies but not nearly as much as I had imagined. The snake door? Really exists and moves. The Hippogriff? Animatronic. It will bow to you. Dragons, werewolves, stirring cauldrons, self-washing pans, a massive model of the complete Hogwarts grounds? All exist in real life and function in some way. They had tons of the makeup/masks used on the goblins. They had concept art that made you want to decorate your home in nothing but HP concept art. Basically, not only do you suddenly feel oversized when you start touring the studio, but you eventually also feel talentless. Why can’t I paint? Design sets? Meticulously measure out castle dimensions? Sew? It’s already lame that I’m not a wizard living in the wizarding world, and now I’ve got to face that I’m also a run of the mill golden retriever with no skill set! Stop making me feel introspective HP Studio!
On average the tour takes three hours. They said that one person stayed for 13 hours. We stayed for just under five. Sergio and I had kept our expectations low. This was the Studio Tour after all and not the theme park. There might not be that much to keep us occupied. Obviously, that was not the case. Sets you can see include – Dumbledore’s office. You can even go around back and peak through to Dumbledore’s sitting room/bedroom. It had never occurred to me to wonder where he slept. Now I KNOW! The kitchen at the Burrow. Gryffindor common room. The boys dormitory (fun fact: it’s not life-sized. It’s maybe quarter sized? Between it, a funny hallway, the Great Hall ceiling, and the model castle you can really get a feel for how camera angles work.) Snape’s Potions dungeon, which is also a bunch of other sets when it is cleared out. Umbridge’s office. Diagon Alley. Privet Drive. The Great Hall. The cupboard under the stairs. The Knight Bus. The crooked bridge. The Hogwarts Express! The list goes on.
As I mentioned before, you can see most of the costuming from the movies which I found really interesting. Other highlights include the green screen Quidditch experience. Both girls donned wizard robes (very heavy) and climbed on a broom. They each had a video and some pictures taken. It was very cute. We all sat on a bench and then found ourselves flying in a Ford Anglia above the Hogwarts express. Later we all sat on a train and reacted to spoken directions. Rosalind was good at this. Sergio and I were quite bad. No surprises there. In literally every picture, no matter what was happening behind us, Sergio and I just looked bemused.
- If you can get to the top level of the Hogwarts Studio Tour bus that picks you up from the Watford station, do so. Go ahead and sit in the front four seats to add to the magic for your kids that have never been on a double-decker bus. Be advised, you won’t see the video they play that has HP actors introducing you to the studio tour. You can hear it though.
- They have a place to eat at the studio, and the food is pretty good. It’s not necessarily cheap, but it’s convenient.
- Go ahead and buy just one shared Butterbeer for everyone to try because you know you want to. Spring for the Butterbeer ice cream if you want to enjoy it. It’s not that Butterbeer is as bad as I expected it would be, it’s just not refreshing. One dab will do.
- The gift shop next to the Hogwarts Express does carry stuff that the outer big gift shop will not have. If you like that baseball shirt you might want to go ahead and get it. I learned this the hard way.
- Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans are not just your typical Jelly Bellies. I learned this the hard way too. They do in fact include vomit (sweet acidic tomato), soap (just like soap), earwax (I didn’t try), grass (yup), and black pepper. Nobody was sad when Rosalind finally spilled them all on the floor of the plane and we got to stop trying them.
- It won’t happen much, but at least once you will be pulled aside in airport security and asked if you actually have arrows in your luggage. You’ll have to remember quickly and then ruefully explain that they are wands. Then you will have to show them, and then they will go and show everyone else.
- Make sure you get the kids with you a Passport. Obviously I don’t mean a real Passport which you probably should have gotten before you reached a foreign country. I mean a Studio Passport. If you are like us and got your tickets by mail you might accidentally miss getting one. Seek out a worker near the door and get one. This booklet includes a couple of different scavenger hunt activities that keep kids moving around the studio. First they have to find all the golden snitches. There are hints to help because they can be hard to find. The other is a set of stamps that you get from different locations. These stamps are the engraving kind. It makes for a really nice keepsake by the end.
Overall, this was a great experience for all of us. We all had fun no matter our age or interest in Harry Potter. I’m sure Sergio had the least fun because he’s not as weird about it as the rest of us, but there is enough to keep the attention of anyone. That’s the nice thing about it being a studio tour. You get to see all the technical stuff that made it happen. If you are in Britain and are debating giving up a whole day to get out to Watford and see the studio, I would wholeheartedly recommend you do so.