Avatarland Coming to Disney!AVATARLAND DISNEY NEWS
News broke yesterday that Disney Imagineers plan to expand the Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park in
Orlando by adding a highly-themed land based on James Cameron’s multi-billion dollar film phenomenon “Avatar.” For many (myself included) this news came as quite a shock because, while speculation about a DAK expansion has been ongoing for a while, Avatar was not even on the radar. Nowhere close.
Many had speculated that DAK might expand to include a zoo for mythical creatures, an idea that has been tossed around since the park’s development (in fact the logo for Disney’s Animal Kingdom features the silhouette of a dragon although there are no obvious dragons within the park itself).
As a self-proclaimed Disney fanboy, I try to see things from Disney’s perspective and understand why they do what they do. Clearly this affiliation with Cameron and Avatar is a direct reaction to Universal’s immense success with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Building Hogwarts at Universal Studios has been a lifesaving endeavor for Universal who, after being more than $36 million in the red in 2010, enjoyed sizable profits thanks in large part to the draw of Harry Potter (according to the Orlando Sentinel).
Disney, of course, takes keen notice of this. Many assumed that the ongoing expansion of Fantasyland at The Magic Kingdom was Disney’s counter to the Wizarding World. The Mouse is pumping more than a billion dollars into the northern sector of the park; creating an expansive and highly-themed storybook land where children can step into the worlds of some of Disney’s classic characters. Sound familiar? *Sips Butterbeer*
I always thought this assumption was a little odd. While the allure of the Wizarding World is certainly multigenerational, I would bet that it’s target audience is skewed slightly older than the princess-costume wearing, Dumbo-riding set. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is an INTENSE ride with elements that are certainly too dark for many younger children. In fact, the Wizarding World as a whole sports darker, grittier theming (to great effect). So for me, it just didn’t sit right that Disney would only offer up a shiny, sparkly fairytale land in return.
Now that I have had some time to digest yesterday’s news about Avatar land, I can see where Disney is headed. Avatarland (God, I hope they come up with a better name) will give guests a slightly darker, grittier (and fully immersive) experience. New Fantasyland and Avatarland serve as a one-two punch to Universal, targeting both younger (young-at-heart) and older guests. Also, it is known that James Cameron fully intends to release (at least) two more films in the Avatar franchise so Avatarland will be able to take full advantage of the excitement surrounding the release and subsequent interest in the world and its characters. The Harry Potter story on the other hand, is essentially told. While there is still a ton of canon left to visualize, The Wizarding World only has so much Harry Potter material to utilize. As much as it pains me to say it, Avatar could go on to make many, many more movies.
My biggest worry is that Avatarland is going to feel grossly out of place in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. How weird will it be to see giant, half-naked blue people walking around in a Disney park? Are guests as invested in the mythology and storylines of Avatar? Will families who haven’t seen the film be able to understand what the hell is going on?
Call me a purist, but I have always found it a bit off-putting when Disney injects non-Disney material into the parks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Tours and Indiana Jones but something about them just doesn’t jive with the big picture created within the park. Internally, I am trying to justify why Darth Vader is occupying the same space as Buzz Lightyear and it makes my head hurt. I worry about this for Avatarland. Will the Na’vi interact with Mickey and friends? Will we see giant tanks rolling down the main streets of the Animal Kingdom? Perhaps most “gasp-worthy,” will they turn the Tree of Life into the Tree of Souls? I WORRY.
One reassuring point in this story is that Walt Disney Imagineers are THE BEST in the industry. Very few people will dispute this. Disney wrote the book on immersive theming and if anything is certain from this announcement of Avatarland, it is that it will be a truly beautiful experience. I suppose the underlying question is, does the beauty of the Pandora world fit within the beauty of the Disney world?
What do you think? Would you visit Avatarland? Is Disney making a mistake or is this a smart reaction to the success of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Sound off in the comments!