The Harry Potter Exhibition

It’s summer, and that means, for us USA types, road trip vacations.  This week, we took a quick 3 night trip to Chicago, from St. Louis.  Today’s post, and the next few, fall under the “Miscellaneous” category on my blog, but I felt the need to throw out some exposition in case people are out there Googling for reviews…

Non-fans of famous boy wizards would be wise to go read another blog posting at this point.

My favorite book series has to be “Harry Potter”, and I think the films are very enjoyable as well, serving up enough of the magic to make it worthwhile.  So, when I found the Harry Potter Exhibition was showing at the Museum of Science and Industry, I had to get us tickets for it.

Note that there is a service charge of $3 or so per ticket when purchasing tickets online, but you get to pick your entry time ahead of your visit, which beats standing in line there for whatever time they have.  Tickets are $26.  There is no videotaping or picture taking, at all.  However, there is the Ford Angelina ( note: Anglia ) from “Chamber of Secrets” in the museum lobby you can photo.  Note that some of the pieces in the exhibit (I think) were not in the movies, and just created for the exhibit, otherwise I can’t think of uses for a highly detailed Kreacher or Buckbeak model.

Our ticket time was 9:45, the first of the day.  I thought that was smart, since we wouldn’t have to deal with lingering crowds in the exhibit, and we didn’t.  It was just our small group of 20 or so.  While waiting in the museum foyer before going out to the exhibit (it’s displayed outside in huge tents, but you wouldn’t know you’re outside), we were entertained by a young man with a knowledge of trivia.  I don’t know if they are faking or authentic, but all the exhibit guides had a British accent.  The funniest part of the “pre-show” was when the man pointed out we were very special, because we were the 9:45 show … 9 and 3/4s.  Just like the Hogwart’s Express platform at King’s Cross.  Very funny.

On time, we entered the exhibit, into a small room with the famous sorting hat on a stool next to a set of doors.  The guide in this room pulled several kids from the group and the hat (well, a voice from above) sorted them into their houses.  This reminded me of something I had seen at the Warner Bros. tour Harry Potter exhibit in California.  They had the same sort of thing where you’d sit on a stool and put the hat on, and it would sort you.  I wonder how much of this exhibit might have come from that one?

We moved through the doors into a dark room with seven monitors on the wall.  These played a sort of Potter montage, quickly moving through the characters and emotions from the movies (nothing from Half-Blood Prince).  The movie was about four minutes long, and the doors opened into the main part of the exhibit.

First, we saw “moving paintings” on a wall.  Actually, only a few of the painting were moving, but it was still effective.  There was then the fat lady’s door to walk through, with the fat lady on the open door (projected from behind).

The first area of the exhibit was “Hogwarts”, if you will.  There were displays separated into different teachers or areas.  On the right was Ron and Harry’s beds along with nightstand and various props.  Glass cases held wands and school books.  Costumes tagged with what movie they were from were alongside each bed.  There was a display for Lupin, with the Boggart armoire, another for Gilderoy Lockhart, with some very humorous props – lots of photos of himself and the big painting of him painting himself.  The potions area had costumes and wands from Slughorn (Book 6) and Snape as well as jars of ingredients and other bits and pieces.  There was a costume from Quirrel and then, the desk and hanging kitten plates of Professor Umbridge, along with her very pink costume.

At the end of this area is Professor Sprout’s costume and props, along with a table of mandrakes that you can pull out of the pot and make scream.  Cute.

We then move into the Quidditch area, and there are lots of brooms, and props like the omnoculars, Quidditch magazines and books, all in cases.  There are 7 various Quidditch costumes from a variety of the films, and if I remember correctly, there were even some more after that, including Cedric Diggory’s robes.  Although I may be thinking of their costumes from the Tri-Wizard tournament.  In the Quidditch area, there is a section (like the basketball toss at an arcade), where you can toss an honest-to-gosh quaffle through one of three hoops, about 3 feet away.  Fun for the kids.

On the other side of the area, is a display of costumes from “Prisoner of Azkaban”, in the pumpkin patch, with a large Buckbeak model.  This is next to Hagrid’s hut.  Inside is a chair you can sit in, as well as a costume.  I never realized how big Hagrid is supposed to be.  That costume is huge!  There is also a dragon egg on the table that wiggles and moves a bit.

Outside the hut is the head of a Dragon from the “Goblet” movie.  Maybe the Triwizard costumes were here.  It’s hard to keep it all straight.   All these small “collections” are nicely themed and really detailed.

We then move into dark territory, which included a model of the Angel grave that held Harry in “Goblet”, as well as Malfoy and other Death Eater costumes.  There was a dementor model hanging from the ceiling and Azkaban outfits from “Phoenix”.  There was also the Harry Potter red sweater costume from them end of “Stone”, which led me to realize how small he actually was in that film.

Lastly, was the Great Hall.  Outside of the hall were numerous “Educational Decrees” on the wall.  Take time to read the fine print on them.  Inside the Hall, which had candles floating from the ceiling, were numerous costumes from the Yule Ball in “Goblet”, including Ron’s ratty, moldy robes, which aren’t any nicer close up.  Especially in contrast to Harry’s Tux.  In the center cases are fake food – a selection of entrees and desserts.  On the far side of the room are cases holding a variety of sweets, from the Skiving Snackboxes to Every Flavor Beans, and also a Wizard board game.  There are costumes from Dumbledore and Sirius and the end of the room and a model of Dobby hiding behind.

You exit to some applauding moving paintings, and enter the store area.  There were some exhibition specific items mixed in with the more generic type things, and a lot of collector items, like plaques with film frames, $50 wand replicas and a $50 Marauder’s Map.  Something for every fan, although you could probably find it cheaper in the real world.

Altogether, it took us an hour to go through, with the kids.  I could have spent much more time in there.  The thing I liked was the detail on the school books and notebooks and quizzes.  You never get to appreciate that stuff in the films because it goes by so quickly.

Up next time, the new American Girl Store and the Legoland Discover Center.

3 thoughts on The Harry Potter Exhibition

  1. Hi,
    My name is Deanna Boyd. I am originally from London but I have lived in Chicago for over 13 years. I am working at the Harry Potter Exhibit and there are some inaccuracies in your blog. It probably doesn’t matter that much but I did want to inform you of a few things.

    This exhibit as it exists has never been seen before. While it’s possible a sorting hat performance was performed in LA, I can assure you this exhibit is brand new and years in the making. The car in the entrance hall is a 1969 Ford Anglia (not Angelina).

    The majority of the 30 employees that actually work with this exhibit (the Souvenir Shop and Audio Visual Tours are separate) are from the UK. The accents are indeed authentic. Although this may not have happened in your group, the Sorthing Hat ritual is not just for kids. We have Harry Potter fans of all ages and have sorted 80 year-olds, people in wheel chairs as well as people with special needs. The video presentation is 90 seconds long (perhaps it felt like 4 minutes to you) and there are some clips from “The Half-Blood Prince”. Did you notice a young boy with dark hair in front of flames?

    Now, about the CGI models. CGI images cannot be created solely on a computer. If you had purchased the audio visual tour (an extra charge on top of the $26) you would have heard that all the models were built to scale and highly detailed before being scanned. This is extremely important in making movies. These images will not look accurate if the models are not done well. Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix is an animatronic. The Dementor, the Acromantula (a relative of Aragog’s), the Hungarian Horntail Dragon and the Centaur were all creative models that were used offset for the close-ups of the actors.

    I would also have to disagree with you regarding the Qudditch area. Many adults have had a lot of fun throwing quaffles. The school uniform and the dress robes in the Great Hall labeled as Cedric Diggory’s are the only costumes for that actor. The Quidditch robe from Hufflepuff is from the 3rd film, not “Goblet of Fire”. That is why the plaque does not give Robert Pattinson’s name. He was not seen until the 4th film.

    I realize this is an informal blog but there are very knowledgeable people stationed in every part of the exhibit that are there to engage guests and to answer all questions. Next time you visit an exhibit, I would take advantage of the staff especially if you intend to write about your experience. That way, your information will be accurate instead of speculation on what you think something is or how it was used. Feel free to email me with comments or questions.
    Deanna Boyd (Employee of the Harry Potter Exhibit at MSI Chicago)

    • Hi Deanna. Well, I certainly only approached the review as a parent with children, so it wasn’t meant to be an in depth discovery of the exhibit. I didn’t have the opportunity to spend an inordinate amount of time with any guide, although one took the opportunity to tell us the egg from “Goblet” was made of real gold, which I didn’t particularly buy. Perhaps you can elaborate on that one.

      I certainly didn’t mean to insult anyone there, as it seems you took it from the tone of your comment. I had a great time, and wish I could have shot some images to allow me to better recollect the exhibit. Four days later, it was kind of hard to recollect more than the general flow of the tour.

      By the way, I spent 9 years doing CG work for films, and I do know that models are created and sculpted to be scanned. My comments were addressed to the extreme painted detail that was added to these models, which wouldn’t be needed for 3d point scans.

      I’m surprised the opening film was only 90 seconds. I was so engaged by it that the time just flew, but it seemed very comprehensive.

      Feel free to add any other comments. As I said, we didn’t really have the time to interact with anyone. I did throw a quaffle though, once I got it away from the kids 🙂 .

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