Avatar Land Coming to Disney World!


Plans for AVATAR Land have been posted online, and on October 12, 2013 at the Japan D23 Expo, Disney released concept art seeming to confirm these plans. While Disney didn’t explicitly say so, the concept art features a boat floating through a nighttime jungle of bioluminescent plants (think Living with the Land, except breathtaking “Imagineered” plants), a sim ride where you soar into the sky riding a Banshee (think Soarin’), and an incredible environment based on AVATAR, with mountains that appear to float, and other mythical environments. All of this roughly matches those plans that leaked back in 2012.

For some, the even bigger news is that the new plans call for nighttime entertainment on Discovery Island. Based on the description and concept art, this new show sounds like a combination of the Disney Dreams (at Disneyland Paris) tech and the type of pageantry from Tapestry of Nations, the parade that ran in Epcot’s World Showcase during the Millennium Celebration.

This all comes just a couple of months AVATAR Land was teased at the Anaheim D23 Expo, effectively putting to bed months of rumors that the project was on life support or dead (to be honest, we still had our doubts that it would happen…we totally believe it will now, but Disney projects have been killed in later stages than this before!). It sounds as if an agreement between James Cameron and Disney has been reached concerning the content of AVATAR Land, and the pace of the project is set to pick up. After the colossal success of the Disney California Adventure overhaul, let’s hope AVATAR Land is similarly well-done.

avatar-land-boat-ride

We’ve been watching this story closely since the beginning, and this article was originally posted in October 2011, updated in September 2012 with information about the status of the project, and again on October 12, 2013 with more concert information and concept art released by Disney.

On October 14, 2013, the video below was released. We have to admit, this has us really excited for Avatar Land!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3fkuaQNGHI

Prior to our 2012 update, we had been hearing for months that Avatar Land (or “The World of Avatar”) has been on life-support or was to be quietly canceled by Disney. These rumors seemed reliable, and there was intense speculation that the project was shelved along with Cameron’s 4th Avatar film. Even after that and up until the Anaheim D23 Expo, speculation was intense that the project was not going to happen, due to “creative differences.” Preserved for the sake of history (some of the speculation is almost humorous now) is our original 2011 post, including our reaction to it in 2011. We’ve added a few parentheticals in italics to the “Reaction” section to reflect our new thoughts since that time.

avatar-land-disney-floating-mountains

Original 2011 News

Today is one of those days where the Disney community received such monumental, discussion-provoking, and exciting news that we felt behooved to share it with the 3 or so of you who haven’t yet heard about it: I’m talking about James Cameron’s Avatar coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

You read correctly–as of September 21, 2011, Disney’s Animal Kingdom gift shops will be selling the Avatar Blu-ray/DVD Combo for the low price of $29.99!

In other news, James Cameron and Disney announced today that Disney will be building attractions based on the film (soon to be films as two sequels are released) Avatar under a long-term, exclusive agreement with the parties involved in creating the films. The attractions are going to be built in an all-new Animal Kingdom “land” and is set to begin in early 2013. The Wall Street Journal estimates that the initial phase of the project is likely to cost $400 million.

At a Tuesday Walt Disney Imagineering press conference, Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Thomas Staggs said: “We’re just beginning the development phase on this project.” These plans will include heavily themed recreations of the environments from Avatar and its sequels, to be fleshed out with Walt Disney Imagineering at the helm, in collaboration with James Cameron.

Disney CEO Bob Iger was also on hand for the press conference, and he said new the project would let park visitors “enter the ‘Avatar’ universe and explore it first hand.”

Reaction

Sarah and I haven’t seen Avatar (I think we’re like 2 of 6 people on the planet who haven’t seen it) (I have since seen it–I thought it was dull and overly derivative–the 3D must have been the big in-theater hook), and until this announcement, we really had no desire to see it. I’m not at all a fan of James Cameron, as I think he’s about as overrated as Michael Bay (this was a bit strong–James Cameron is much better than Michael Bay). I question whether Avatar made so much money because it was a good movie, or because it was a visually stunning movie. I prefer thought-provoking films and well-scripted drama to special effects, and his films are definitely the latter. Additionally, I would have preferred an original concept to drive Disney’s Animal Kingdom expansion, rather than relying on a franchise.

soarin-avatar-land-disney

All of that said, I respect quality and think it always “outs.” From what I have seen of Avatar, it looks like an incredibly themed universe, and I have no doubt that Walt Disney Imagineering will faithfully execute the design into something absolutely breathtaking. I think the transition from Song of the South to Splash Mountain is a perfect example of this. I’m not wild about Song of the South at all (I do understand its historical significance, though), but Splash Mountain is an amazing attraction. Likewise, I think the attractions in Avatarland have the potential to be amazing, regardless of their source material. I also think that, with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter right down the road, Disney needed to bring a high profile franchise into the fray as an appropriate response. Thus, when viewing this purely as an objective business decision, I think it is likely to be a brilliant decision that will pay great dividends. Even the best original idea WDI could have executed wouldn’t have the same built-in fanbase as a franchise, and to that end, I completely understand why bringing in something like Avatar was necessary. Overall, I think it’s very exciting news, and am really looking forward to 2015 (ha!), ’16 (haha!), or ’17 (fingers crossed) when it finally opens!

disney-animal-kingdom-night-parade-2013

(We both still are excited about this project, especially after seeing the concept art that looks like this will be a beautiful land with an almost abstract “mythical” feel to it, which is exactly what Disney’s Animal Kingdom needs. Although I am not a fan of AVATAR and I question its long term staying power, I am not a fan of Cars, and I loved Cars Land, which I feel was wisely done with a Route 66 style and not overtly cartoonish. We feel that taking a similar approach to AVATAR Land would be wise, just in case the shelf life of the films is limited. An entire land that could grow stale is a dangerous thing–much worse than a single attraction.

Admittedly, before this concept art–which we consider to show a very promising project–we had become less enthusiastic about AVATAR Land than we were originally. In 2011, we didn’t really care about Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and thought just about anything would breathe some new life into it. We’ve since fallen in love with the park, and view it as Disney’s last “unspoiled” park in terms of thematic cohesiveness. We are still excited about the project, especially a leisurely boat ride through a beautifully lit forest and the rebirth of the “Rivers of Light” parade concept, but are cautiously optimistic about the expansion. We hope it is done with integrity for Animal Kingdom’s theme, and represents the mythical area the park has always needed, and is not an overt “World of AVATAR” shoehorned into the park with thematic inconsistencies recklessly ‘explained-away’ with overwrought backstory.) 

Rest assured we’ll be covering the progress of this project…

Your Thoughts…

What do you think about AVATAR coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Has your opinion changed at all now that some concept art has been released? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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76 Responses to “Avatar Land Coming to Disney World!”

  1. Lisa says:

    I’m trying to keep an open mind, but it’s really hard! Disney has so many of it’s own material that would lend itself beautifully to an AK expansion: 1) Revitalizaion of Pocahontas, 2) Add a Australia or South American continent and utilize characters from UP or Rescuers Down Under (a little older). I mean who wouldn’t want to ride in a floating house ride? :)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Oh yes, Disney does have a lot of its own properties it could have used, but I think the question you have to ask is: “What does Disney have that is on the same level as Harry Potter?”

      I don’t think any of its ideas or properties have the same existing fanbase as Potter. I think an outside entity–like Star Wars, LOTR, or Avatar–was almost NECESSARY for this project.

      I really wish it were Beastly Kingdom, but I realize Disney has a business to run, and that wouldn’t draw people the same way Avatar would draw people.

      • Harry Baulse says:

        Who gives a crap about Harry Potter-land? Are those 2 rides and a giftshop really a threat to Disney? uh no?

        Disney lack-luster prefomance of past 10-15 years is what’s hurting Disney, they are their own worst enemy anymore

      • Michael Greiner says:

        I am fairly confident that the “flying banshee” attraction is going to be the same ride system as the original Harry Potter ride at Islands of Adventure. This wouldn’t be a bad thing though. I am not the slightest bit a Harry Potter fan but the one time I rode that ride it was fantastic.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        I think Universal has exclusivity on the KUKA arm ride system used for Forbidden Journey. If Disney is able to use that, or something like it, that would be awesome!

  2. Kayla says:

    I appreciate your rational commentary on this topic. I was completely thrown off by this announcement, but after having a few hours to digest the news, I am excited. Animal Kingdom needs something, and if executed well this could be a great addition to the parks. Of course, it will be a while before we truly know what this expansion will entail, but the potential is definitely there. I’m excited to see what develops over the next few months and years!

  3. Kevin Crossman says:

    >I think he’s about as overrated as Michael Bay

    Wow.

    Them’s fighting words. Say what you will about Cameron, but his stories are always a lot more emotionally resonating than Bay’s.

    I do think your business rationale is sound. I’m happy for Animal Kingdom… even if this doesn’t fully seem thematically appropriate (based on a SciFi film…). But, hey, at least it isn’t Marvel.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’m not comparing his style to Bay’s, I’m saying they’re both overrated. I also think Le Cellier is overrated, if I said, “Cameron is as overrated as Le Cellier,” I wouldn’t be implying that he’s a steakhouse! ;)

  4. Mike says:

    Idk how I feel about this either, Avatar was spectacular cause of it visual stunningness (at least in my perspective, though it probably has something to do with seeing it first row Imax where it’s so large, you have to turn your head from side to side….). It kind of makes you think though, what the general public thought about Star Tours when it was first released. However, Star Wars has a much more dedicated fan base. Avatar on the other hand seems to have run it’s course as a movie theater hit. Though with some clever marketing it could be done…

    And I definitely agree about the Australia/South America area could be like an Amazon Themed area.

  5. I find this to be quite the odd announcement myself. While I definitely agree Animal Kingdom needs a big expansion, I would have rather seen it done their own way. This should provide a good short term impact on the park when it opens, but I really have doubts about the long term impacts.

    It seems as thought Avatar was the big thing for a short period of time, but quickly became an afterthought. Two more movies should help, but how relevant will Avatar be when the land finally opens? I don’t think it will be anywhere near the monstrosity of a franchise that Harry Potter has become.

    I would have personally rather seen Disney put their own ideas into the park like Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The big time attractions at those two parks were basically made by Disney and have become so well known because of the parks. This seems like it would have fit in better with the non-Disney themed Hollywood Studios, but yet that park has no space and Animal Kingdom does need the attractions.

    Just my two cents, but hopefully it works out well!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      My response would be – how remembered is Song of the South? How popular is Splash Mountain.

      Point being, quality always outs. If something is done well, regardless of the source material, it will have staying power. Cameron is a perfectionist, and he will make sure this is done well.

      • Amanda Susan says:

        I think Song of the South is a good comparison but Splash Mountain is one ride that could have been rethemed if needed. This is a whole land that can’t be as easily rethemed.

      • You are definitely correct there, it will probably be an outstanding land thematically. If so, hopefully nothing else matters, unless the franchise really flourishes, which would only make it better.

        My main point is that I just prefer Disney to support its own entities. It’s cool they have one park dedicated to other entities, but I hope this doesn’t become a trend for the other parks.

        Hopefully it does work, as it would be a welcome addition 5 years or so after the Fantasyland expansion has opened.

    • Amanda Susan says:

      I agree with you that it may boost attendance in the beginning but it may not have staying power.

      I think of Harry Potter and Universal. I’ve been there, loved it, but I have no plans to visit Universal again. I think Universal say a huge boost in attendance but will see a decline eventually because I don’t think they’ll get a lot of repeats. I’d rather spend my money at WDW.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        The vast majority of WDW guests are also one-time visitors, and that’s clearly the market WDW has been trying to hit for years, while largely ignoring its dedicated fans.

        Dedicated fans spend money at WDW regardless. Disney wants to draw more of those one-and-done visitors. To that end, I really don’t see an issue with people coming once to see Avatar-land and not returning.

      • Amanda Susan says:

        Good point. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine people not going multiple times a year like I do.

  6. Katie says:

    I’m waiting to see how this plays out… but I think it has potential.

  7. CJ Balogh says:

    I agree with Brendan that if Disney really is bring on Avatar to compete with Potter, I think it’s a loosing battle. I’ve seen Avatar and honestly I don’t get what all the hype was about. I guess it was nice to look at but that’s about all I can give it. But I haven’t heard or seen anything about Avatar in a while. I didn’t even know they were making sequels. With Potter, every little announcement becomes a media avalanche, I just don’t think Avatar has that kind of weight to be throwing around.

    I am excited AK is getting an addition though. I think in the short term, any addition/expansion is a good thing. It will keep people interested in the parks and make them want to come back regularly to see what has changed. It is very interesting news to say the least, I was shocked when I heard. Obviously, we are still years away from even seeing anything let alone it opening so it will be interesting to follow along with what happens.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      “it was nice to look at”

      …and if Disney is creating a highly themed land after the movie, what more really matters besides the visual look? Again, Disney can create quality attractions that stand on their own. It’s not like the faults of the movie’s story necessarily become faults of any attractions in the land. Whereas the environment of the film will be replicated in great detail.

      • Vince S says:

        I wouldn’t put an over reliance on a well themed ascetically pleasing look to drive the longevity of an attraction. Disney attractions that survive rely heavily on a simple well told and fun story. The ambiance and visuals may pull in people in out of curiosity, but it is the story that keeps them coming back.

        I’m not sure Avatar has a strong story people will want experience and enjoy over and over again. Frankly the story is just not that fun.

  8. Andrew Carrieri says:

    Yipee! Animal Kingdom is getting some substance (and less zoo like) lol. Anyway, your point about Song of the South is spot on-at least Avatar was somewhat popular. To this end, I really don’t care what Disney bases their attractions as long as the additions are quality. I’d rather them make a great Avator themed attraction than a mediocre attraction based on a popular Disney movie. I hope, if logistically possible, they put this where Rafiki is now-they can even use Wildlife Express as a means of transporting guests from the “Real World” to the “Mythic World of Avatar.”

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think with as popular as this will be when it opens, requiring access via a train is a logistics nightmare. It’d be cool thematically, but I really hope Disney doesn’t do it.

  9. eddymixx says:

    i don’t think this was a great idea on disney’s behalf to theme a brand new area (or a mini park) based on an ‘okay’ movie. ust because Avatar was the greatest selling movie of all time (thanks to $10-13 ticket prices) only brings any sequel even more scrutiny so if any of these films fail…what will that do to the park in the long run? Although Cameron is a very talented director with an incredible eye for detail in scenery for both real life (titanic) and virtuality (avatar) he still falls WAY short on the established fanaticism George Lucas has. We have to wait and see what Avatar 2: Electric Boogaloo and Avatar 3 : N’avi Harder bring to the table and if it will have as great of an impact as the Star Wars saga produced in the late 70s/early 80s. and no don’t count ticket sales as a gauge to success.

    Last time Disney used a ‘hot’ director to man an attraction was lame-o Michael Bay and that crappy Pearl Harbor attraction at DHS. its now a stale part of an overall stale attraction that the parks division isn’t finished sweeping under the rug….yet.

    If Disney was smart. Involve the making of Avatar as a re-branding of their studio tour attraction, and focus an area on something more interesting and long-lasting (like Beastly Kingdom or Villains park)

    • John Ledbetter says:

      I just hope Cameron uses those names for his sequels.

      As far as sequels go, I think Cameron knows how to make them better than the original. In my opinion Aliens and Terminator 2 were the strongest in their franchises. Having seen Avatar a couple of times, I just hope they keep Pandora open at night at the AK because bio-luminescence was a huge part of the aesthetic in the movie.

  10. RetroCOTfan says:

    Leave it to the lawyer to have a rational, well-considered response that considers both sides of the discussion about this announcement. :-)

    My wife & I haven’t seen the film either, so we’ll count as 2 more of the 6 on the planet. I’m not overly excited about the film and its sequels, but I am intrigued to see what kind of ride systems/attractions WDI creates/uses, and I’m glad to see money being spent in a big way on WDW.

    Some of the things I’ve read today have been very frustrating, and while I can respect every person’s right to an opinion, some of them are very frustrating. I understand having strong feelings about all things Disney, but a modicum of patience may be needed before we claim that the entire Parks & Resorts division should be shut down because of the heresy of forming a new partnership (that will undoubtedly bring some great benefits). Even if I end up not loving the end result, Avatarland will draw people to Animal Kingdom and away from the attractions I love, so that’s a win in my book!

    Thanks for your even-tempered approach – I wish our community had more members like you!

  11. Dan Winer says:

    As Tom Staggs said in his Q&A on the Disney Parks Blog this is all at the blue sky design stage. We have not even seen concept art to understand how this might fit in to the existing park. I would not be surprised if WDI have not even worked out which area of the park is going to be used. All of the recent projects (FLE, PI) have changed radically from the initial concept so I am sure much of the feedback from guests will be taken on board as the project moves forward.

    I am withholding judgement until there is something more concrete. Personally I have a suspicion that this project might morph back into a beastly kingdom 2.0 if the upcoming Avatar films do not perform as well as the first one at the box office. Whether that is a good or bad thing it is too early to say. I like the general concept but a reasonable opinion requires far more detail before we judge Disney on this decision.

  12. Victoria says:

    I really don’t understand bringing in Avatar. Star Wars is a huge franchise, Harry Potter is a huge franchise, Avatar was one movie and if it didn’t LOOK as good as it did it would have been a total bomb story wise – I personally would rather watch Pocahontas. Did Avatar really have that many die hard fans that would take the trip all the way to Disney for a land styled after it?! I personally don’t think it will have the staying power & the theme will lose its “luster” and if anyone ventures over there it’s going to be because the rides are good (despite any theme) or Expedition Everest has a long line and you have an hour before your fast pass is good. I 100% think Animal Kingdom needed something – this however is NOT the something I would have chosen. Other than being completely thrown off by Disney’s decision making it’s not going to make me NOT go to Disney World. If I don’t like it I will steer clear of the area when i’m at AK and laugh to myself when I see people painted in blue to get into the spirit.

    • Faith D'Ambrosio says:

      Agreed.
      Maybe the once-proposed Beastly Kingdom. That was what should have been there, instead of Avatar-Land or whatever they want to call it.

    • DawnH says:

      Yes! To those of us who loved Star Wars, Star Trek,and Stargate, anything to do with the stars is a huge hit! Loved, loved, loved Avatar!! It calls back to the old Foundation novels where Gaia planets flourished and all life was interconnected on a molecular level–ah, the possibilities.There was just enough recognition of what we love about scifi and just enough new interpretations of old themes…and who doesn’t like a blue monkey?!

  13. Angela says:

    Well, my husband and I haven’t seen Avatar either, so I guess this forum houses all 6 people who haven’t seen it! While I don’t care one way or the other about Avatar itself, I am quite pleased that AK is finally going to be adding some attractions. It doesn’t even matter that we don’t yet know what they might be, but if they are high-quality then that will enhance the experience of visiting AK. Like someone else said, even if I don’t care for them they might displace the crowd from other areas/parks I’m actually visiting!

  14. Jennifer says:

    We haven’t seen Avatar either, so I guess the 6 people are all right here. I would have much preferred Beastly Kingdom or an Austrailia or South America exhibit. I really think they could have done a great job with UP and the rainforest. Oh well……I doubt this will change AK into a full day park, and certainly not into a multi-day park like MK and Epcot.

  15. Steve Burns says:

    Seems to be a popular blog topic for today, because that’s what I posted at my blog, too. I’m also in that minority that hasn’t seen Avatar, but I think that’s beside the point. The real point here is that Disney has lost all its creativity and now relies on the creativity of others – Pixar, Marvel, Muppets, Avatar. Oh well.

  16. Professor Plum says:

    Interesting post and reactions.

    Unlike many who seem to be writing here about plans to add an “Avatar” area to Animal Kingdom, I have actually seen the film, which I find both visually stunning and somewhat thought provoking. In fact, I refer to the film in my undergraduate World History survey, where it complements our reading of Daniel Quinn’s philosophical novel “Ishmael,” an exploration of the shift from Paleolithic to Neolithic culture and the ramifications and implications of that shift. I would not be at all surprised to learn that the filmmaker had read and been influenced by Quinn’s philosophy in much the same manner that the Star Wars films were informed by the work of Joseph Campbell in mythology. The film “Avatar” is also part and parcel of the “state of nature is superior to civilization” theme that runs through Western art and literature starting with the Romantic movement of the early 19th century. It’s themes, which center on lifestyle and environmental issues, could not be more timely or relevant.

    Is the film overrated in popular discourse? Probably, but then most things are. Is the film as thoughtful as some other recent films? No (“The King’s Speech,” to compare apples and oranges, beats it into a cocked hat). Is it a thoughtful film? Yes. Will it make a good themed area for the Animal Kingdom? I suspect it will, but that will entirely depend on the execution. Let’s face it, Disney has been known before to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Is an expansion of Animal Kingdom needed? Absolutely. Is Disney relying too much on the creativity of others? That’s quite possible, but also not especially surprising. To a greater or lesser extent, Disney has always done this (some might argue that it’s been Disney’s great contribution, this appropriation of the creative work of others, reformed for the American bourgeoisie). Twain, Wyss, Stevenson, Verne, Barrie, Carroll, the Grimms, Travers, you name it, have all enjoyed (or suffered, some would say) by their appropriation by Disney.

    We shall see what comes of it, but it’s not a bad film, and it’s not a bad idea for a theme park land. And at least they’re not ripping out something wonderful in order to build it, which has certainly happened in the past.

  17. Laura B. says:

    I agree very much with your views Tom. I think the Splash Mountain analogy is spot on. Hopefully Disney will be able to build an incredibly thematic, immersive atmosphere that guests who love and don’t love Avatar will appreciate. I went to WWoHP earlier this year with my husband (who is an avid HP fan like myself) and with my dad and brother (neither had read an HP book, nor had seen a single movie). We all enjoyed the experience. Granted, as HP fans, my husband and I probably got more out of the experience, but my dad and brother agreed that the Forbidden Journey ride was the best amusement park ride we’d ever been on. EVER. What I’m hoping is for something similar from Disney. People who love Avatar and people who’ve never seen Avatar will be completely immersed in the world and come away in awe of all of the details. Sure, if you’re an Avatar fanatic, you’ll probably get more out the experience. The only caveat for me is that the fan base for Avatar is going to be a lot smaller than HP. Will I make the effort to see Avatarland? Yes. Do I think people will start planning trips immediately to go visit Avatarland? Not nearly as many as WWoHP.

    That being said, so I wish it was Beastly Kingdom? Absolutely. Do I understand why Disney went with Avatar over an original idea? Absolutely.

  18. Faith D'Ambrosio says:

    First off, let me say that when I write this, I am not bashing ‘Avatar’ or Walt Disney World at all.

    – - -

    Animal Kingdom is, by far, my all-time favorite of the Disney theme parks. ‘Avatar’ is a pretty good movie. But putting them together? That’s like combining soft-serve ice cream with sardines: it just doesnt go together.

    While I give props to Disney for trying out a new thing with this, I really think that Avatar is NOT the way to go for a new themed land, especially for Animal Kingdom. If they were to put something with Avatar in, say, Hollywood Studios then I could see it being much better suited.

    But Animal Kingdom?

    I really cant make a connection to Avatar in that setting though. Have you guys heard of the proposed “Beastly Kingdom” that was supposed to be in Animal Kingdom? It was supposed to be themed off of mythical creatures in our world, from dragons to unicorns. Both of which are already included in Animal Kingdom: the logo for the park features a dragon while the park has a Unicorn parking lot.

    Originally the Beastly Kingdom was halted due to production costs when DAK was first built and opened. But since they have money to squander with James Cameron now, why dont they just resume the designing and building of Beastly Kingdom? I’d rather see a three headed dragon and a majestic unicorn duking it out rather then 10-foot tall blue people that glow like a nightlight in the dark.

    Does anyone agree with me here?

    I’m actually upset about this idea, with Avatar, because I dont think the film has made a lasting affect on people that the area would bring in enough income and attention. Maybe from people in 2011-2012 but not people in 2030 or even farther then that.

    Now who agrees that we should have more griffins and less aliens?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      How many Guests have seen Song of the South? Yet Splash Mountain still does incredibly well.

      There is no denying that Beastly Kingdomme would have been awesome. However, I think it’s still a bit too early to damn this new project. The land won’t be the same as the movie. It will incorporate mythical creatures into DAK in a highly themed environment.

      • Stephen says:

        I’m not sure the comparison with Splash Mountain is a fair one. Disney doesn’t advertise it as being the “Song of the South” ride; the name of the film is not in the title; most guests would probably not have any idea that it’s based on a film. To most people it’s just a fun thrill ride. The name of the ride tells you everything you need to know. You don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the ride.

        A fairer comparison would be Star Tours. I hate the Star Wars films (sorry!). So to me, the fact that it is based on a load of films that I either don’t like or haven’t seen, with a huge and rich backstory and mythology that is lost on me, detracts from the appeal of the attraction. Sure, it’s a fun ride, and I ride it every time I’m at DHS (if the line is short). But I would enjoy it more if it was an original attraction, where no prior knowledge is presumed.

        If you *advertise* a ride or land as being based on an existing franchise, then the appeal of the ride is inevitably linked to the appeal of the franchise. Otherwise, why would they do it? Disney are banking on fans of the franchise suddenly wanting to visit DAK (which they probably will). But the flipside is that people who are not fans may be less attracted to it than if it were an original IP. It’s just the two sides of the same coin.

        None of which is a criticism of Disney, incidentally.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        This is a really excellent point that I hadn’t considered. I agree with you regarding the comparison, although I don’t agree with you about Star Tours’ appeal. I’m also not a fan of the movies–I don’t dislike them, I just know none of the mythology, but I love Star Tours, and I think it’s an excellent stand-alone concept.

        However, your point about appeal to the attraction being tied to appeal of the films is well taken. I wonder if they will go into AVATAR Land with this in mind, making the attraction more “inspired by” like DINOSAUR (I know the ‘overlay’ there was ex post facto, but the idea is the same), so the tie-in could be stripped away years down the road if the Avatar sequels flop?

        Again, thanks for this perspective. I think you’re mostly on the money.

  19. Mandy says:

    Haven’t seen Avatar, and probably never will. I’m not that upset that Disney went with an “out of house” movie to theme a land after, but I just don’t get why Avatar? They already have deals with George Lucas, I think expanding the Star Wars franchise in the park would be a much bigger draw. But, even is Disney does go ahead with Avatar, I’m sure the Imagineers will do awesome and beautiful things with it.

  20. Elizabeth says:

    I agree with Faith. I’d rather see those mythical creatures than blue people in DAK. I don’t understand why they’d use Avatar. I haven’t seen the movie and have no desire to. It’s just not that popular anymore, where as Potter is still incredibly popular. Avatar is not the way to go to compete with Harry Potter. I doubt there is a franchise that Disney would align themselves with right now that would do well against Harry Potter. If they try to incorporate Twilight, as much as I love and adore Disney, I will never visit DAK again.

  21. Hey Tom,

    Now that we apparently know this is really happening, any idea what will become of Festival of the Lion King? I’ve heard a rumor that it would be getting moved, but I’ve also heard that its being removed completely. Hard to imagine since they advertise it as their most popular show and its always a full house when I’m there. Thanks, and, as always, great writing.

  22. Some Chick says:

    I’m not very excited about Avatar being added. I’ve never seen the movies and I don’t have a desire to. I think there are so many ideas floating around out there that could be better put in AK. It’s pretty obvious that they’re doing it to compete with the WWoHP… but the difference is that Harry Potter covers a generations lifetime! We grew up reading the books as little kids or even young adults and watched the movies when we all got older. Avatar was one movie that came out one time.

    That said, I looked at the blueprints. I don’t know if they’re reputable or not, but it looks interesting. It kind of looks like it’s going to be similar to Soarin’. But you would think they would learn by now that the queue should be longer.

  23. JEANY SANCHEZ says:

    I love Avatar it’s my favorite movie. And I can’t wait to see Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

  24. John Menjes says:

    Here’s one more who hasn’t seen that movie either.

    And I hope the day before that land is supposed to open to the public, it gets swallowed up by a giant sinkhole.

  25. Paul M says:

    I saw Avatar in the theaters, and again at home on BluRay. I’m pretty much done with it. Star Wars I can watch over and over again…it never gets old. Avatar simply doesn’t have legs or longevity. Creating a “Land” based on it would be worth seeing only once, like the movie.

  26. Rosalie says:

    I think that the ‘movies’ of avitar are irrelevant. My best friend and I almost stopped talking because she believed that reading the ‘harry potter’ books was sinful and was very judgmental of me reading them (we are Christians), and I disagree as it is no different than the fair god mother saying ‘Bibbity-bobbity-boo”. Fantasy is fantasy in my eyes. Anyway, the point to the story is that she and her family went to Universal and she LOVED Harry Potter world and even let her daughter by a wand that she desperately wanted. My friend never seen any of the movies and never read any of the books, but she loved being immersed in another world. (and yes, I gave her a ridiculously hard time about it)

    Avitar was okay as a movie, but man, it could be AMAZING as a land. I think that it is a benefit that the generations to come will most likely never see the movie Avitar. They will just love the land for what it is. I am excited!!!!!

  27. Betsy says:

    I was pretty indifferent to the whole Avatar project until I saw the concept art – now I’m pretty excited. I’ve never seen the movie, and don’t really care to, but I’ve never seen Song of the South and Splash Mountain is my favorite attraction in all of Walt Disney World. My mother was blown away by Harry Potter world, and has never read the books or seen the movies. Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I thought the Jurassic Park section of IOA was the lamest section/ride in the park. I could go on with more examples of movie/attraction comparisons, but you get the idea. This is why I’m not all doom and gloom about a land based on a movie I don’t care about. Good post!

  28. alexanne says:

    I see a lot of skeptics in the comments, but I have to say I’m pretty excited about this, the concept art is simply stunning!!

    Any word on when they will start building this? My next trip to WDW is from April 29th to May 9th 2014 and even though I’m excited for Avatar Land, I would hate that my boyfriend’s first WDW trip was disturbed by renovation in AK, and that noise or something like it would prevent his experience from being memorable :P

  29. Mi Mi says:

    Key factor in the equation? AVATAR is highly immersive…

  30. Joshua says:

    If this land goes over like New Fantasyland, it will be a huge, overrated piece of garbage with the only good thing it could ever do being getting people out of the rest of the park. Avatar is an awful film and the visuals are about as impressive as Felix the Cat cartoons. To catch up to Universal, Disney needs to up their quality as a whole, not blow their whole budgets on stupid lands while ignoring everything else that has truly needed huge renovations for 5+ years (like Splash Mountain/Big Thunder Mountain Railroad)while also throwing in new attractions and expanding their marketing of existing attractions. Disney needs to cut the crap and start making compromises. If they cater only to the people who go there once for four days and never return, they will end up losing the people who spend multiple weeks there every year. Try to balance satisfying the “crazy, traditionalist forum morons” and the one or two time visitors. I’m just hoping they don’t screw up Disney Springs, that might just be the last straw for me.

    • mitchellfrost@gmail.com says:

      New fantasyland is great… and it’s not even finished yet. Once the e-ticket coaster opens that means you’ll have: A new castle, a stellar dark ride, two well themed meet and greets, a fantastic table service restaurant, a new e-ticket (dwarves mine), much superior dumbo experience, more comprehensive theming.. Oh yeah.. And enchanted tales with belle is actually pretty incredible considering what it could have been. They really delivered if you ask me.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I fall somewhere in the middle on New Fantasyland. I think its substance has been disappointing (we don’t yet know if Mine Train is an E-Ticket, and I wouldn’t be presumptuous on that), but the thematic design is great. Mermaid dark ride is really disappointing, especially after seeing other modern dark rides.

      As for Universal, I know it’s en vogue to say Universal is leading the pack right now, but I think that’s a bit charitable. Don’t get me wrong, I love Universal’s ambition, speed in building, and I think Steve Burke is taking it in the right direction, but let’s not forget that those parks were stagnant for a full decade after IoA opened, and even before that, they were well behind Disney. What they’ve done in recent years is still playing catch-up to Disney. Now, if you’re only looking at new additions, Universal is trouncing Disney in the last few years…but to expand that and say Disney needs to “catch up to Universal” is a bit much. Disney has plenty of problems that need to be addressed, but I think the prevalent attitude that ‘Universal can do no wrong and Disney can do no right’ is a bit much.

      • Joshua says:

        When did I say that Universal can do no wrong or that Disney can do no right? You should probably understand what I wrote before criticizing what I said.

  31. Mitch says:

    Disney has almost unlimited amounts of intellectual property that they could draw from to create an amazing new land at animal kingdom. Instead they license avatar from a studio they don’t even own. It’s just so ridiculous on so many levels. Avatar is a single film, and while there are sequels in the works and it is James Cameron, those sequels could be awful and cast a long dark shadow over avatar land. I heard Disney might get the rights to lord of the rings for its theme parks. Now THAT would be a legit franchise to spend all this money and imagineering effort on. Sadly, even if everything about avatar land is visually and technically impressive- nothing will allow me to forget that it’s all based on a movie that few people if any care much about anymore.

  32. Jordan says:

    The thing that concerns me about this is how it fits in with Animal Kingdom. I honestly don’t see it other than the fact that its a forest like planet and there a load of trees at Animal Kingdom.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think they’ll have to play up the “mythical land” element of it in order for it to work. The boat ride looks like the perfect fit for such a land, but I’m not so sure about the Soarin’-esque attraction.

  33. Kalie says:

    Avatar isn’t my favorite movie by far, but I do like the message and the visual presentation of it. I think it fits right in with AK’s theme. Those who say “I have not seen the movie and don’t care to, and I don’t want it in the park”….really?? That’s like saying you hate dole whips even though you have never tried them. I am really excited about the expansion. Not because I am a huge Avatar fan, because I am not. I trust that Disney will execute this project well and it will be a breathtaking experience to add to my future trips!! I am thrilled about more night time events at AK, however, I am wondering how this will affect the animals. Will they go in enclosures at night? I read about a night time Kilimanjaro Safari ride. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Will they add lights? That’s not a very natural environment for the animals and it may take away from the whole message of the park. With that said, I trust Disney will do it right and protect the dignity of the animals who call the park home.

  34. Brett says:

    Tom, thanks for another good read and take on Avatarland…or Pandora, whatever they choose to call it. I for one am looking forward to this opening at Animal Kingdom, especially after seeing the concept art. As many have said, stunning! The night time entertainment, the new rides/stories, all should be great to see. With the recent improvements made to both DL and WDW, the quality should be top notch and incredibly immersive for all of us to enjoy, even if you don’t like Avatar movie series much. I like spending time in the park (and will be more so after reading your last post about AK) and this should be a further draw for my family and I.

    As for all the negative comments from everyone, at least it’s giving me something to chuckle about while late in the office ;)

    Keep up your great blog, always good articles!

    Brett

  35. Dave says:

    I at once can’t, but then kinda can, believe some of the closed-minded and dismissive opinions of this before we’ve seen anything of significance. I mean, only some wispy conceptual looks at it (I watched the video announcement as well) are available and presuming that because you didn’t care for the movie equates the land in the park will be equally uninteresting is a huge jump in logic, though I can understand why it comes up.

    I can see it not having the same sort of pent-up demand that Harry Potter has, but how often does a cultural phenomenon like Harry Potter come along? I mean, Disney could do Oprahland, but I don’t think it would have the same punch for the youngsters.

    To me, the key will simply be how amazing are the rides and how immersive, detailed and beautiful is the land? I haven’t been to Universal since way before HP opened, but the main ride there now is out there for the public to consume. Do you think James Cameron is going to settle for something that doesn’t trump that? I actually doubt he’ll be that concerned about trumping it so much as making it as real to him as the 3D in the movie suggests. I don’t think it will be as simple as Soarin’ with a different movie.

    This all might be a long-winded way of agreeing with Tom on the Splash Mountain analogy. You could really say it about any of the film-based rides. I bet a very large percentage of people haven’t seen The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, but love the heck out of the ride at Disneyland. So, I’m willing to wait before I let it fall into a sinkhole. Saying so long before there’s really much to react to is like saying Joe Rohde isn’t capable of pulling it off well just because of that thing on the side of his head (call it an earring if you must, but while I have a ton of respect for his work, that thing gives me the shivers!) being there.

    I’m just grateful that it looks like they are trying to do something impressive here and if people go and say they are just blown away by it, whether Avatar the film has legs or not won’t matter. There will be a great deal of fun to be had at the park. Disney could blow it, of course, that’s always a possibility, but having Cameron so intimately involved seems to me a way to keep this from disappointing, he’ll be a real thorn in anyone’s side who tries to nickel and dime it to death – not that Disney seems to be leaning that way anyhow, but they do have a history.

    Last I was at WDW, only the train, Goofy coaster and Dumbo (one spinner only) were open in NF, but I was pretty impressed with what was there and where it was going. Won’t be headed there again at least until the Mine Train coaster opens, though. We had our fill of construction walls. ;-)

    I’m hopeful.

    Dave

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Well said. I especially agree on James Cameron’s perfectionist nature. Hopefully he pushes and pushes on this project. My expectations are high!

  36. Jamie says:

    I loved Avatar. I think it’s beautiful! I know it’s basically a live action Fern Gully but I don’t care! It was a beautiful movie, with a beautiful message, and I honestly can’t wait to see what Disney does with it! I think it will be a welcome addition to Animal Kingdom! While I enjoy Animal Kingdom personally, it is my least favorite of the parks and when I visit Florida, I never seem to spend more than a half day there. I think the addition of Avatar will keep me there longer!

  37. Tonya Holcomb says:

    Since I have become bored with Animal Kingdom, I think the park could really use something impressive to attract ggv uests. Disney has a lot of competition! While I prefer Disney, a lot of my friends prefer the other parks in the Orlando area. I really do wish Disney would stick to their history and build upon that instead of buying other ideas!

  38. Stephanie says:

    I think thematically it’s a bit of a stretch for the animal kingdom. However, it seems like it would an amazing addition. We are looking forward to it. It seems like we will probably like Avatar Land more than the movie.

  39. Laura B says:

    As someone who has never seen Avatar, I always find this subject interesting. I’m actually excited about this – and I wasn’t, at first. But as I see/hear more about the plans, my excitement begins to build. It’s no Beastly Kingdom, but it seems to me to have quite a bit of potential. And if I can get excited about it, having never seen the movie (and truly, I’m not sure I have any intention of seeing it), I think that means it might have some staying power, regardless of how the original (or any sequels to the) film continues to/not to resonate with moviegoers or park visitors.

  40. Toni Adkins says:

    I loved Avatar. I thought it was beautiful and the 3D aspect was stunning. I think Disney would do a wonderful job making the movie come to life in an attraction…..NOT one whole area of a park, and definitely not the Animal Kingdom.

    You can’t compare it to Univeral’s Harry Potter Land. Harry Potter is a huge franchise. Everyone loves the books and movies. Half the people on the planet have at least heard of Harry Potter. Harry Potter items can be found nearly everywhere. Can the same be said of Avatar? I enjoyed the movie, but I LOVE the Harry Potter book series and would LOVE to see Harry Potter land at Universal.

    I am really looking forward to seeing the Fantasyland expansion. Can’t wait til our next trip. How do I feel about seeing the purposed Avatar land? Well, I can’t summon up any kind of thrill even close to what I feel thinking about the Fantasyland expansion….or Harry Potter land. Avatar land is the worst idea Disney has had since turning Dino land into a carnival. Its not going to make me want to take a trip to WDW just to see it. I’d rather do all of the same old stuff in the other parks than see Avatar land.

  41. Anne S. says:

    By the time Avatar Land is open, it will be a larger franchise. Cameron is currently working on new trilogy with original cast. (Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana have signed on as Sully and Ne’tiri.) It will be filmed in New Zealand and ready for release probably around same time that Avatar Land opens.

    I feel as if people are not giving the Imagineers the benefit of a doubt. I think they can make a breathtaking land and outstanding rides that will be very much in keeping with the ecological theming of Animal Kingdom. I’m very excited for the Soarin’ style ride since Pandora is breathtaking.

    I just feel people are overreacting to this. Until you set foot in the Land, ride the rides, eat the food, and experience Pandora Disney-style, one cannot fairly say, “I hate this.” It is like talking to five year olds. Withhold judgment until you experience it for yourself. As others have already said, there are plenty of movies I am not a fan of, but that does not mean I can’t enjoy movie-inspired theming and rides. And if people hate Avatar because it is scifi Dances with Wolves, I wonder how they felt about Lion King? That was Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And Hamlet was based on a Norse legend. Most intellectual properties are just fresh coat of paint on older ideas. Big deal.

    As for Avatar being someone else’s intellectual property, um, so were lots of things found in Disney parks: Henson’s Muppets, Lucas’s Star Wars and Indiana Jones, etc. Disney only just bought Star Wars, after all. Does it really matter when Disney is already a hodge podge?

    This will be a wonderful opportunity. Animal Kingdom has always been my favorite park. I just think that the same people putting up the biggest stink will be heading over there to see what all the fuss is about once it opens and people start posting pics and word of mouth spreads.

    • Elizabeth Swartz says:

      Anne S. – I cannot agree with you more.

      When I first heard of Avatar finding a home at Disney and especially at Animal Kingdom, I was skeptical (I’m not a big fan of the movie). BUT, after thinking a bit, Avatar will fill the void that Beastly Kingdom was meant for: that of fantasy creatures.

      For me there’s one main difference between Harry Potter and Avatar that makes it so only Disney can successfully make an Avatar-themed land. It’s easy to replicate the sets of Harry Potter, but not so much with Avatar. There is natural awe in the world of Avatar that only the Disney Imagineers can capture and deliver on beautifully.

      I’m excited for this land. It was unexpected at first, but has sure grown on me in time.

    • Steve Boutet says:

      Anne…I completely agree with you. Just a few days before the initial announcement, I was walking on my treadmill, watching Avatar, and couldn’t think how great it would be to actually step foot in an Avatar themed environment. I also felt that it would be the next property that Universal would gobble up. Needless to say, I got a few goosebumps when the announcement was made just days after those thoughts. I hoping all those naysayers will be eating crow when the land opens up at DAK. It has great potential and I feel that Pandora, and the N’avi, encapsulate the fantasy yet environmental approach of the park. Bring it on!

  42. Alyssa says:

    I’m excited to see what they come up with. Animal kingdom is my least favorite park and I think this will be a great addition to the animal kingdom park.

  43. JEANY SANCHEZ says:

    I love Avatar-land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and new nighttime entertainment is awesome I can’t wait!

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