Do you ever wonder what it's like to enter a different world than the one we live in? To be in a place where fantastical creatures co-exist? Well, what if I tell you that there is a place where fairies and pixies exist harmoniously? Would you be interested? And no, I am not going insane or telling a lie. This fantasy world truly exists, and it is called the Department of Wonder.
Department of Wonder is an “award-winning immersive, mixed-reality fantasy that blurs the boundaries between physical and digital reality.” If you are someone, like me, who enjoys fantasy-based films, novels, or even video games, then the Department of Wonder is the place for you to experience what it’s like behind the screen. It is described as “a cinematic experience that casts the audience as the leading stars.”
Department of Wonder was founded by five geniuses who all happened to have a background and award-winning titles in animation, emerging technologies, and immersive storytelling experiences. Kyle Clark is the president who oversees the entire department. Clark has worked in animation and digital media for 25 years. He has also worked and partnered with movie productions such as Warner Brothers, DreamWorks, and Disney, to name a few. Clark is not the only one behind the Department of Wonder. The head of experience and Emerging Technology is Taylor Williams, an award-winning innovator in emerging technology who produced virtual realities for Oculus, Google, Facebook/Meta, Legendary studio, LionGate, and Fox. The head of fabrication is Rickey Crum, who is currently an adjunct faculty member at Southern Methodist University. He is a professional designer and fabricator with nearly 20 years of experience. Lastly, there are two heads of creative—Brandon Oldenburg and Limbert Fabian. Oldenburg is not only an Academy award-winning film director and designer, he also received four Emmy Awards and multiple Cannes Lions awards. Fabian is also an Emmy award-winning director, illustrator, and designer.
With the collaboration of the five founders, Department of Wonder opened in October 2022. With it being open for only a short amount of time, Department of Wonder has been recognized and has received first place in the category of storytelling for the Blooloop Innovation Awards.
As someone who grew up watching Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia, I love a good fantasy story. Therefore, when I heard about Department of Wonder, I was curious and definitely intrigued. I purchased two tickets for my husband and me and we were lucky enough to get a reservation the same day we purchased the tickets. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a worker who was standing outside the door. We checked in and asked the worker a few questions. We admitted that we are going in blind and have only read the information provided on their website, including photos. The worker described the Department of Wonder as a mixture of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings vibe with a blend of the animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender. He also explained that once we enter through the doors, it will feel like we traveled back 100 years from now. Upon hearing all this information, my husband and I were both excited and informed the worker that based on the descriptions he provided alone, it sounds like the movies that we normally love to watch. Afterward, the worker suggested that we sit and wait for the rest of the party until our scheduled appointment, and to our astonishment, we were the only ones who had reservations for the hour.
When our scheduled appointment arrived, the worker who we were talking to earlier got into character mode. That’s when we knew it was time. His character told us that once we walked inside, we would meet a character named Filo who works as a lamp maker apprentice. If we want to buy a lamp, Filo is the guy. However, if we choose to experience the fantastical world, we must provide him with a password. The worker asked who wanted to deliver the password to Filo. I immediately pointed my finger at my husband because I was afraid to be chosen. The worker informed my husband that he must remember the password and do exactly as he instructed him. He told my husband the password was to clap first, followed by a spin, and then point out the gun fingers while saying “It’s lantern time!” It was quite a relief that I didn’t get to do that.
When the doors finally opened, my husband and I were greeted with animal sounds, similar to a bird, and rustling noises. The room was dimly lit, with the surrounding lamps as our only source of light. Filo greeted us and we exchanged names. Then my husband said, “I got a password for you.” With a confused look on the apprentice’s face, he asked for the password. As instructed, my husband did not miss the beat and did exactly what he was told to do. As soon as the password was provided, the lamp maker came out from the other room and greeted us. He immediately knew that we were not there to buy lamps but to step into a whole new world. The lamp maker provided us with our own lamps and instructed us to carry them everywhere we go. The lamp maker led us inside a tent and instructed us to capture as many lights as possible in order to return safely back home. The lamp maker also handed me a necklace and instructed me to deliver a message to the queen. Once everything had been provided, the lamp maker opened a portal and the next thing we knew, we were on the other side.
Once inside this fantastical world, we were immediately greeted with trees, a fairy, and a frog-looking creature that reminded me of a character from the movie Labyrinth (1986). They informed us that there were four realms that we can wander around and if we ever need assistance, to never hesitate to ask for help. Lastly, they warned us about a guy named Egan who is roaming around the realms, not because he was an enemy, but because they’re all teasing him.
My husband and I began our journey and went to all four realms. Each realm has its own characteristics and missions. One of the realms reminded me of Alice in Wonderland mixed with Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this realm, we were greeted with clothes, as if we were inside a wardrobe. As soon as we walked in, the room was filled with doors. Some opened and some remained closed, which reminded me of the scene in Alice in Wonderland. This realm was my favorite. It reminded me so much of my childhood.
As soon as we visited all the realms and completed our tasks, we were invited to meet the queen to take us back to “our” world. As instructed, I provided the necklace to the queen, and she opened a portal to take my husband and me back to reality. The hallway was lit with various colors and as soon as we opened the door, we were back in 2023 at a gift shop.
Overall, this experience was truly magical and definitely a high recommendation for any curious mind. The way the founders and other artists made this place seem as something straight out of a movie, novel, or video game was impressively thought out. If anyone is curious to delve into a fantasy adventure, or even explore what it's like to be in a similar movie set, Department of Wonder is located in Sugar Land Town Square. If you are ever in the Houston area, here is one place you can bring your loved ones and experience a world outside your own.
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