September 2011: Avatars and their home planet, Pandora, arrive in Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom around 2016. If you’re one of the six people alive who have not seen Avatar yet, Avatars appear to be very tall, very blue humans with pale stripes and well-toned, Jenny Craig bodies. And Pandora looks a lot like Earth, except its mountains tend to float, and its woodlands glow like a black-light poster. Disney considers Animal Kingdom “a natural fit” for Avatar because the film and park share a reverence for the planet and ecological theme of preservation – even if they don’t share the same planet.
Disney signed an exclusive deal with director James Cameron and producing partner Jon Landau to use the franchise in theme parks. Construction should begin by 2013, and similar attractions will eventually appear in Disney parks worldwide. Disney did not talk about cost, but The Orlando Sentinel reports a rumored price tag around $500 million.
Notes about the announcement:
First: It’s a big deal. Avatar could have been a single ride, but announcing it as a new “land” means a minimum of two rides and an entire themed area. Expect a few extras – a Pandora-themed playground, for example? – along with out-of-this-world restaurants and tons of Avatar merchandise in uniquely strange stores.
Second: The change will boost Animal Kingdom’s appeal. It’s unclear where the land will be located or even what the name will be, but Animal Kingdom always planned to develop a fifth section (not counting the central area) between the entrance and Africa. Originally envisioned as a tribute to animals that never existed – dragons, unicorns, and the like – this area could become the planet Pandora. However, Disney includes a dragon in Animal Kingdom’s logo, so a whole new section could be carved out of Central Florida wilderness somewhere in the back.
Third: Demand for Avatar should increase over time. At least two more Avatar movies debut in 2014 and 2015, so the passion for Pandora and its residents won’t feel old by the time the land opens.
Fourth: Expect lots of comparisons to Universal’s deal with the Harry Potter franchise. Will Avatar bring new crowds to Disney the way the boy wizard put Universal’s Islands of Adventure on the map? Expect speculation before Avatar opens and analysis after the first guests arrive. (Some of it will be on FAQOrlando.com.)
Fifth: Things can and will change. At first, Disney’s massive expansion of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom had a heavy focus on the princesses; but during production, it became clear that it skimped on appeal to boys and parents – so developers changed it. One thing Disney does extremely well: It gauges what the public wants and gives it to them.
If Avatar suddenly seems to be too boy-centric, would Disney add yet another princess to its lineup – an eight-foot tall, blue-striped royal in line for the Pandora throne?
It could happen.