When it was announced almost a month ago today that Disney would partner with James Cameron to bring the seventies prog-rock album cover world of “Avatar” to its various international theme parks, beginning with Florida’s Animal Kingdom park in 2014, the news was met with some confusion and a healthy dose of skepticism. Why would Disney, which has a whole host of franchises and properties that could easily be outfitted for the parks, seek an outside partner? And would the appeal of “Avatar,” even with two sequels in the pipeline, continue for decades to come (a necessity given the expense and expansiveness of the project)?
Well, while we’re a few years away from answering those questions, the seriousness of Disney and Cameron’s intent looks to be solidified. Reports leaked out yesterday that the gray-haired filmmaker was touring Animal Kingdom (in truth the least compelling park in the Florida cluster) with Tom Staggs, Chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and Joe Rohde, an Imagineer primarily responsible for Animal Kingdom’s overall design and content who is known for his crazy assortment of earrings. And today the Disney Parks blog made it official.
“Getting the chance to roll up my sleeves and explore Disney’s Animal Kingdom from the inside out was a phenomenal experience,” James Cameron told the blog. He continued: “As I walked through the park, I kept imagining Pandora coming to life all around me and found my mind racing with all the possibilities of what we will be able to create in the years ahead.”
The photos don’t reveal much, except three white guys out for a stroll, which is precisely what you’d expect this early in the game. Staggs characterized the jaunt as “an important step in the creative process,” adding “we are excited about getting started on what will be a spectacular addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.” Rohde, meanwhile, tried to solidify the connection between “Avatar” and Animal Kingdom, for those still puzzled: ” AVATAR and Disney’s Animal Kingdom share a common bond in that they both focus on adventures that will radically change your perspective. They call you to take action on behalf of nature wherever it may be found.” Okay, that makes more sense.
What some don’t realize is that the “Avatar” project in Florida isn’t going to be a single theme park attraction but an entire “land,” just as immersive and huge as Tomorrowland or Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. There will be rides, stage shows, and shopping opportunities, all themed to the hilt and featuring the most advanced next-level technology (keep in mind that the facial recognition software that the government used in the years following 9/11 was technology licensed from Disney that they had originally created for the Haunted Mansion attraction – yes seriously).
If you want a comparable experience to what the “Avatar” land will eventually be, you will want to wait until next summer when Carsland opens in the dramatically reconfigured Disney California Adventure park in Anaheim. Featuring a dynamite new event ride called Radiator Spring Racers and a constellation of expertly themed smaller rides, stores, and restaurants, it will put you smack dab into the world of Pixar’s “Cars,” hopefully without the narrative headaches of the second film (and 100% less Larry the Cable Guy).
The “Avatar” land is also one of a handful of movie-themed projects at the Florida parks. As we speak Disney is hammering away on a deal with George Lucas to expand the Star Tours attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios into an entire expanded “land,” and the popular “Muppet Vision 3D” film at the same park will see a similar expansion should this Thanksgiving’s “The Muppets” film take off the way the studio is hoping. (Still, there’s something to be said about counting your chickens – there are probably drawers full of sketches for projects that would center around last year’s expensive flop “TRON Legacy.”) At least, as the actual photos of Cameron touring the facility indicate, we know that Pandora will be coming to Central Florida.