“Follow the Spiders”: GeekMom Enters the Forbidden Forest

The Forbidden Forest, Image: Sophie Brown
The Forbidden Forest, Image: Sophie Brown

Since it opened in 2012, the Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter has consistently added new experiences to keep itself fresh. Platform 9 ¾, which opened in 2015, was the first permanent expansion to the tour, and throughout each year a number of special events are run at the Studios including the annual Dark Arts (Halloween) and Hogwarts in the Snow (Christmas) periods, as well as other short-term features. Today, the second permanent expansion–The Forbidden Forest–officially opens its gates to the public, and last week we were able to take an early peak at the new section.

The Forbidden Forest section of the tour is similar in size to the previous Platform 9 ¾ expansion but packs plenty into its small space. It lies within the first of the two soundstages you pass through during a visit–for those who have visited before, it sits between the Ministry of Magic sets and the entrance to Platform 9 ¾–and doesn’t feel like an add-on, rather that it has always been there but you are only now being allowed inside. On entering, you pass through giant gates where you are greeted by an enormous figure of Hagrid carrying the lantern we see him holding when he meets students arriving on the Hogwarts Express. Guests then carry on up a meandering path lined with enormous fake trees that stretch all the way to the ceiling. The trees are amazingly lifelike, which made it somewhat disappointing that between them all we could see was a plain blue background rather than say, a painted backdrop of more trees vanishing away into the background that would have made the forest feel that much more immersive–hopefully this is something the tour will add soon.

Buckbeak, Image: Sophie Brown
Buckbeak, Image: Sophie Brown

At the top of the path was the Forbidden Forest’s first major attraction–Buckbeak. This lifesize animatronic towers over you, giving a real sense of how big hippogriffs are meant to be and a great photo opportunity. A switch nearby allows guests to change the lighting in this area from warm sunlight to creepier blue moonlight. Buckbeak regularly bows to his visitors using stunningly fluid, realistic movement and calls out in strange noises somewhat reminiscent of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Buckbeak was easily my favorite part of the Forbidden Forest and, judging by the constant crowd surrounding him, I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Beyond Buckbeak lurks the real centerpiece of the Forbidden Forest, but before you reach this area, you are given a choice. The path forks and you can either choose to exit to your right, bypassing the next experience, or continue around to your left with one of the Studio Tour hosts. If you have been paying attention in earlier areas, you may well have caught a glimpse through the trees of what lies ahead!

Rounding the corner, you find yourself in a clearing looking into a darkened cave formed from tree roots where Aragog the acromantula (that’s an enormous spider to any muggles reading) is waiting. A very short show is then performed which sees Aragog loom out of his hollow towards you while a number of other giant spiders descend from the ceiling all around. The experience only lasts a few seconds but given the lighting, sound effects, and numerous massive spiders–many of which will drop right behind you–it is intense, especially for anyone with a strong fear of spiders. I watched the Aragog performance twice and spotted several people who had chosen to bypass it slipping up the path to peak in, then quickly retreating after obviously deciding they had made the correct choice in the first place! Unfortunately, Aragog doesn’t speak like he does in the films, although this may be a good thing as I think having the enormous arachnid initiate a conversation may just tip a few people over the edge and send them running for the exit. That being said, having the Aragog experience work a little more like EPCOT’s Turtle Talk with Crush could have been a whole lot of fun.

After Aragog came the tour’s only disappointing moment–the patronus. In fact, this was so disappointing that I had no idea what it was supposed to be until my sister pointed out the “patronus” switch nearby that allows guests to light it up. I can only hope this was still a work in progress as the tour would have been far better off getting one of those light up lawn reindeer you see at Christmas than what is currently on display, which appears to be a taxidermied Irish wolfhound wearing a LED jacket. According to a representative of the Studios back in January, this area is supposed to show “how a patronus is made,” but all it showed me was the ghostly image of several hundred LEDs burned into my retinas for a few minutes.

The "Patronus", Image: Sophie Brown
The “Patronus”, Image: Sophie Brown

The patronus concludes the Forbidden Forest, with only a display showing the different stages of creating the gigantic fake trees surrounding you on the way out. Throughout the rest of the tour, there were, as always, a few new items and experiences dotted about. My sister and I had a go at making a broom levitate off the ground, and had fun making Dobby dance thanks to motion capture technology and the Designing Dobby event that concluded yesterday. It’s surprisingly fun to make a CGI house elf perform the “Stayin’ Alive” dance! The creature workshop felt a little empty now that Aragog has relocated into the forest, but it did feature a new display of Devil’s Snare that was attracting a lot of attention.

“Up!”, Image: Sophie Brown

The Forbidden Forest is another spectacular looking expansion to the Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, one that adds even more value to an already impressive experience. As to whether it is worth previous visitors making a dedicated trip just to see this new section, I would have to lean towards no. The Forbidden Forest area is fairly small, the Aragog experience over in a matter of seconds, and you can easily see and do everything there in under ten minutes–not worth the £39/$50 entry fee except to the most dedicated of Harry Potter fans. If, however, you are debating a trip anyway, then the Forbidden Forest will make your visit even more spectacular.

GeekMom received entry to the Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter in exchange for this review.