Universal Studios

This year is something of an overstuffed smorgasbord for themed entertainment fans in Southern California, between the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, the refreshed Jurassic World: The Ride coming out of dry dock at Universal Studios Hollywood, the debut of the “world’s first racing launch coaster” West Coast Racers at Six Flags Magic Mountain and whatever is going on at Knotts Berry Farm (something involving delicious boysenberries, no doubt). In fact, there is so much big ticket content coming down the pike that it is easy to overlook one of the coolest and most magical things I’ve seen at a theme park in recent member: the Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle nighttime spectacular at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Now, to be fair, Universal Creative and the team behind the Wizarding World have been doing some really spectacular things when it comes to projection shows on the iconic Hogwarts Castle. The holiday spectacular, introduced last year, was really something special. But this new show takes things a step further and is genuinely amazing.

As far as a story for the show goes, that is kind of shaky. Basically, what it seems like is every scary thing from the “Harry Potter” universe (trolls, Dementors, Death Eaters) are descending on the castle for an all-out barrage. And you know what? It’s pretty spooky. For so long, whenever Universal opens its doors for its lucrative Halloween offerings, the Wizarding World has had its doors closed, but this new spectacular feels like it wouldn’t be out of place on one of those scare-filled nights. It’s really ominous and foreboding, with the projection mapping covering not only the castle but also the twin winged boars that invite you into the entrance of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the land’s signature attraction.

As ghouls climb up the walls of the castle and whole sections of the roof are blown to smithereens (not really, it’s just some projection-mapping fun!), the mood definitely gets darker and darker. But what would anything Wizarding World be without a spark of hope? And that hope comes in the form of one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed in a theme park environment. But how to describe it?

You know Harry Potter’s Patronus? It’s like his protector, and it comes out in a ball of light but shaped like a stag? Well that happens at the Dark Arts show, except that it flies out from behind the castle, and stands up against the forces of evil, in the form of many, many autonomous drones. It’s not two-dimensional, either; there are so many drones that the character registers as volumetric (there’s real dimension there!) and even does a little head nod. It’s is absolutely stunning. Try to pick your jaw up off the floor afterwards.

So, yes, the entire show is wonderful and an essential part of any visit to Universal Studios Hollywood. And it’s only for a limited time, running May 25 – 27. It’ll be back. But who knows when? (The Florida counterpart is coming soon but exact timing has yet to be locked down.)

If you’re thinking at all about visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, make sure it is in that date range and do not miss out on this amazing, one-of-a-kind shot. It might not be the flashiest themed entertainment offering this summer, but it’s definitely one of the most enchanting.