Disney Announces Avatar Themed Land Coming to Animal Kingdom

| September 20, 2011

A surprise came from Burbank, CA when Disney Parks announced a partnership with Fox Entertainment and James Cameron to bring the world of Avatar to the Disney themeparks worldwide.  The first such venture will be an Avatar themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World with construction to commence in 2013.  Continue after the break to see how the news is being received within the Disney Fan community.

Edited 9/23/2011: Disney’s video describing the project was added.

In Disney’s video below Bob Iger, President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company; James Cameron, Director of Avatar; Jim Gianopulos, Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment; and Tom Staggs, Chairman Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; discuss the Avatar project coming to Disney Parks.

Original article follows below:
A press conference was held at Walt Disney Imagineering with Bob Iger, President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company; Tom Staggs, Chairman Walt Disney Parks and Resorts;  Avatar filmaker James Cameron; and Jon Landau, producer for Avatar.  During the announcement, Iger said of the new partnership,

“James Cameron is a groundbreaking filmmaker and gifted storyteller who shares our passion for creativity, technological innovation and delivering the best experience possible.  With this agreement, we have the extraordinary opportunity to combine James’ talent and vision with the imagination and expertise of Disney.”

An article on the Official DisneyParks Blog said Disney’s Animal Kingdom was chosen in order to give guests the opportunity to experience the worlds of animals and nature – in this case the mythical land and animals of Avatar’s world Pandora.  Storytelling within Animal Kingdom focuses on living in harmony with the land and animals.  These themes also occur in Disney’s film Pocahontas, and characters as well as a previous show on Pocahontas were natural fits for Animal Kingdom.  So maybe it should be no surprise that Avatar, a film often directly compared to Disney’s Pocahontas (such as in the popular mash-up video by Randy Szuch below), would be next to come to Animal Kingdom.

Avatar/Pocahontas Mashup from Randy Szuch on Vimeo.

The Disney fan community is still processing the news.  Perhaps, not surprisingly, the initial reaction is mixed.  In a thread on the DISboards, some posters thought the announcement was a joke, while others were excited for any new attractions coming to Walt Disney World.

SIMJUN replied, “I think this is great.  The animals will fit right in with the animals that never were theme.  The potential for rides is great.  Visually it could be beautiful.”

Whereas GoofyforDisney3 said, “I think it is stupid.  Never watched the movie, have no desire to watch the movie and have never met anyone that is such a big fan of the movie that this would be exciting.”

Comparisons to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the year-old land at Islands of Adventure, will inevitably be drawn with any new land proposed at Walt Disney World.  A theme park land based on a film franchise [2 new Avatar films were also announced by Cameron] that includes rides, food & beverage, and merchandise sounds awfully familiar to the lucrative cash cow found down the highway in Orlando.  Although in fairness, an Avatar themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom also sounds strikingly similar to the new Cars Land currently under construction and slated for opening in 2012 at Disney California Adventure.  Finally, it’s unfortunate the details of this deal were not worked out so the announcement coule be made at last month’s D23 Expo.  This is just the type of jaw-dropping surprise that guests were hoping for from the lackluster Parks and Resorts presentation.

Time will tell how this new announcement will shake out, and I’m reserving judgement until I actually see what Walt Disney Imagineering dreams up.  My initial reaction is total surprise.  I just don’t see this one film as having that timeless quality the characters of the Star Wars or Indiana Jones franchises had when they were introduced to the parks.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion Disney wanted to jump on the Avatar franchise in order to prevent Pandora from establishing roots next to another world – a Wizarding world, perhaps.

I’d love to read your reaction to this news.  Does an Avatar themed land at Animal Kingdom excite you?  What would you hope to see included in such a land?  If this is not the type of expansion you hoped to see, then what would you have liked to see? 

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  • todd222222

    Perhaps they will have some kind of night time show that will require the park to stay open past 5pm during the off season. I really like AK and I think this will be a great addition.

  • autumnfirefly

    As soon as I saw the movie at IMAX I hoped this would happen. An entire land devoted to Pandora sounds amazing! Think of the beautiful scenery and species that we are shown bits of in the movie, but real (as close to it), all around you. Imagine the ambient sounds of the creatures of pandora.
    Even if you arent a fan of the story itself, most people must admit that pandora was very visually appealing.
    If you can even admit that,
    simple solution: don’t go there.

  • Kiwini

    “I just don’t see this one film as having that timeless quality the characters of the Star Wars or Indiana Jones franchises had”

    I think this could be an incredible addition to the park based on the experience of Avatar alone, if not because of its character and story details. I have to admit, even though I only saw Avatar once, I cannot now remember the names of any of the characters, which is a big deficit when it comes to having timeless quality. The native inhabitants are called “Navi”, that much I remember. But recreating the environment and sensations of the Navi world, along with rich characters and good storytelling may carry the day independent of how timeless the movie stays.

  • wasabi girl

    The movie was visually appealing. But I don’t see it as a fit, it seems like it will be dated very quickly. I think Disney Imagineering has more depth than to need to rely on a movie franchise for a concept for an addition to Animal Kingdom.
    Fantasyland isn’t based on a single movie franchise, nor is Adventureland, nor Liberty Square. It seems ultimately that relying on a single movie franchise will be very limiting.
    I guess Disney thinks this will be the new Star Wars, generating fans, movies and $$$ for years to come.

  • BritJude

    A little shocked. Liked the movie, thought it had great effects but didn’t love it. I hope they do something amazing and inovative with the concept and introduce something state of the art. Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite parks. I love just wondering around, the music, soaking it all up. AK is missing a South America or an Austrailian land, but I guess a mythical land weaving in conservation is a fit too.

  • Breeze

    I agree with BritJude. Avatar was one of those movies I saw “once” and have no desire to see again, or even buy the dvd for that matter. South America or Australia would be cool, or even an “underwater type” land where conservation not only applies to the land but the sea as well. Alot of the Disney movies have a water theme to them and there are many ways to incorporate some of the lasting traditions of Walt Disney to the parks rather than a single movie that may not have the “lasting” power as some others have.



  • swissdog

    It does seem a bit strange but then again, none of the princess’ were disney originals until Tiana came along. Mary Poppins, Swiss Family Robinson, and many other characters have been adapted and adopted by Disney over the years and are now inseperable members of the Disney pantheon. There is of course no guarentee but there is a pretty good track record. Let’s just hope they don’t give too much away to James Cameron. I find the man insufferable.

  • focalpoint

    Avatar is NOT an intelectual property like Indiana Jones or Star Wars (consisting of multiple films; some good and bad) which allow the studio to take a hit on a stinker and still survive. This is only one film. Judging by Hollywood-years: it’s a ‘dated’ film. Sure, they say they’re coming out with two more (because, who doesn’t turn a profitable film into a trilogy these days?) but I’m afraid Disney is relying too heavily on a set of films that hasn’t even made it to the principle photography stage!

    Personally, I would have preferred an exciting and innovative addition from Disney’s own Imagineers.

    More of my own opinion at parkermonroe.wordpress.com