After first being reported in September of 2011, then supposedly rebuffed and put on hold a year later, Tom Staggs (Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) announced in grand fashion that in fact Avatar and the world of Pandora will be coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Orlando, Florida. The reveal was done at the D23 Expo which was held in Japan for the first time last weekend.
Working with James Cameron and his film company, Lightstorm Entertainment, the current goal is for the opening to take place in early 2017. Though this may change, keep in mind that there has already been a lot of work done on this project over the past 2 years and in Florida, unlike California, Disney already owns vast swaths of acreage around all of its parks which should definitely help speed the process along. (Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California was built-in only 365 days)
Along with the video message to those in attendance, there were also some renderings from Disney’s Imagineers of what guests should expect:
The creation of Avatar / Pandora at Animal Kingdom will not simply be an expansion of the existing park, but will be replacing and displacing some of the attractions currently in place as it will be situated between Africa and the Oasis. The new land will encompass and expand beyond the current Camp Minnie-Mickey while the show “Festival of the Lion King” will be moving to a new theater in the Africa section of the park.
In addition to the land itself, Staggs mentioned that guests will learn what it’s like to soar like a Banshee and confirmed on the Disney Park’s blog site that: “Riding a Banshee will definitely be an ‘E-ticket’ attraction unlike any our guests have ever experienced” With 2 motion simulator rides that have proven hits to guests already (Soarin’ and Star Tours) I think we should expect this to be the type of experience that will cause some long lines at those fast-pass kiosks.
Not to be content solely with building a new land, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will also be adding some experiences for after the sun goes down. Staggs: “As part of the largest expansion in the history of the park, we will be adding all-new entertainment experiences, including a new nighttime spectacular where live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling imagery all combine to bring a show to Discovery River that will delight our guests and truly cap off their day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The park will introduce more nighttime entertainment as well including live performers on Discovery Island, and a new nighttime version of the Kilimanjaro Safaris”
While this news has only been out for a few days, the feedback that I have seen and heard has been nothing if not mixed. Many out there bemoan the fact that Disney is looking outside its own four walls and bringing in a property that they had no prior attachment to nor any creative or financial stake in. While this may be true, you only have to look to attractions like Star Tours or Indiana Jones: Temple of the Forbidden Eye to realize that even though this may be the largest undertaking, collaboration and/or re-imagining of another’s intellectual property, it is definitely not the first. Even the overwhelming majority of other Disney properties in existence have been created by people outside of the Mouse House or were already in the Public Domain. Heck, even PIXAR was an offshoot of Lucasfilm and was a company full of creating properties and licenses all their own until fairly recently. While that criticism may be valid, it is also a little heavy-handed.
More concerning may be just how well James Cameron and the heads at Disney and their Imagineering department can work together to pull off this vision of Pandora. While both entities are nothing if not at the top of what they do, there could easily be a “clashing of the titans” occurring here. When Avatar Land was said to be on indefinite hold last year, the reporting was said to be due to “creative difficulties” within the project. While it’s obvious that both parties have worked past whatever truth or rumors there were to those stories, you still have the largest theme park/media company in the world combined with James Cameron; the man who has personally created some of the most amazing, far-reaching and memorable characters, worlds, and movies out there. To say both entities are fiercely stingy, demanding, and controlling with their intellectual properties would probably be a gross understatement. Being a publicly traded company, don’t forget that Disney has shareholders it must report to while Cameron’s “budget be damned attitude” is well documented. When he wants something, simply, he expects it (and usually gets it).
So Amigos, how do you feel about the opportunity to venture to Pandora? Is Avatar a property whose time has already come and gone? Will its message of conservation and harmony fit in seamlessly at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Did you notice that James Cameron said he’s planning 3 more movies in this world? Leave us your comments below and let us know your thoughts on Avatar and Pandora coming to Disney World!