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DAK's "World of AVATAR" is just one component of James Cameron & Fox Filmed Entertainment's plan to turn this film into a full-fledged franchise

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DAK's "World of AVATAR" is just one component of James Cameron & Fox Filmed Entertainment's plan to turn this film into a full-fledged franchise

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Next month (September 20th, to be exact) will mark the two year anniversary of the announcement that " ... Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide is joining forces with visionary filmmaker James Cameron and Fox Filmed Entertainment to bring the world of AVATAR to life at Disney parks." 

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And just in case you're wondering: September 21, 2013 marks the 2nd anniversary of the very first comment by an irate Disney fan. Who was demanding to know why Walt Disney Imagineering had yet to reveal all of the rides, shows and attractions that it then had in the works for that "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" land which WDI was planning on building at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park.

Okay. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration (If I'm remembering correctly, the first complaint about this project might have actually been posted online on September 22, 2011 ... I kid. I kid). But you get the idea, right? That for almost two years now, the Disneyana fan community has continually carped about the lack of good solid info that can be found on the Web about "James Cameron's World of AVATAR."

Which is kind of understandable. Given that the only official image to be released -- to date, anyway -- is a picture of Joe Rohde, James Cameron, Bruce Vaughn and Tom Staggs looking over a green foam model of a version of this DAK expansion area that has long since been abandoned.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But did you guys ever stop and consider why exactly it is that there has been so little information released to date about "World of AVATAR" ? To be blunt, it's because Cameron -- rather than The Walt Disney Company -- is the one who's been controlling the pace of development on this project. And since James wants this new DAK "land" to open at a time when it would be the most helpful for he and Fox Filmed Entertainment's plan to turn AVATAR into a full-fledged franchise ... Well, that's why we're still in the middle on an information drought when it comes to this particular Animal Kingdom expansion.

You have to remember that it was Tom Staggs and Bob Iger who approached James & Fox Filmed Entertainment when it came to acquiring  the global theme park rights for AVATAR. So it's Cameron & his producing partner Jon Landau and their team at Lightstorm Entertainment who -- thanks to their creative consultant deals -- who actually have the upper hand here in this situation. Not Disney.

And to James & Jon's way of thinking, DAK's "World of AVATAR" isn't an end unto itself. But -- rather -- this new theme park "land" is just one component of their plan to turn the original AVATAR movie to a full-fledged franchise.

James Cameron speaks at the September 2011 announcement of the AVATAR deal.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now please keep in mind that there's this entire arm at Lightstorm Entertainment whose sole purpose is franchise development. And over the past four years, Cameron and his crew there have drawn up a battle plan that takes its inspiration from the way George Lucas and Paramount grew Star Wars & Star Trek into full-fledged franchises in the 1980s. Which involves a series of books that will keep the AVATAR characters and the world of Pandora front-of-mind among sci-fi fans as well as three new AVATAR movies.

And while James & Jon recognize that a hyper-detailed theme park version of Pandora (which will supposedly be this completely immersive environment on the same scale as DCA's Cars Land and IOA's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter) will help keep AVATAR enthusiasts energized, Cameron & Landau didn't want the tail to wag the dog here. Which is why they decided that it would be smarter in the long run (especially when you consider the future earnings potential of this franchise as a whole) that the three AVATAR sequels be properly set up / supported by a new series of sci-fi novels first rather than just charge ahead with development & construction of "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" for DAK. That's why -- in spite of Disney's original announcement that " ... Construction is expected to begin by 2013" -- they have yet to officially break ground on this project.

It's a really brilliant plan. If it actually works. The big question now is will any of the AVATAR sequels be as popular as the first film? Which earned nearly $3 billion worldwide during its theatrical release and then went on to become the best selling Blu-ray of all time.

Copyright 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved

"And why would the potential success of the AVATAR sequels be in doubt?," you ask. Well, there are those in the entertainment industry who have whispered that the main reason the original AVATAR did as well as it did at the box office back in 2009 was because it was the first Hollywood film to skillfully mix CG & 3D. Which -- given the dozens of major motion pictures which are released annually in the 3D format these days -- clearly won't be the case when the first AVATAR sequel rolls into theaters in December of 2016.

In spite of that whispering, this issue doesn't seem to concern Cameron in the least. Earlier this month, Fox Filmed Entertainment chief Jim Gianopulos revealed to investment analysts that James has finished outlining the next three installments of his AVATAR film series. What's more, Cameron has selected the screenwriters that he'll be collaborating with in order to turn these outlines into full-fledged screenplays. And these folks are:

Copyright Universal Pictures. All rights reserved

And then -- borrowing a page from the way that Peter Jackson handled "Lord of the Rings " and "The Hobbit" --  all three of these AVATAR sequels will shot simultaneously starting in 2014 and then be released to theaters in December of 2016, December of 2017 and December of 2018.

Joe Rohde (center) leads James Cameron and Tom Staggs on a walking tour of Disney's
Animal Kingdom theme park. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And as for those sci-fi novels that will be crucial for growing / maintaining this franchise in between the releases of those AVATAR sequels, earlier this month, Fox & Cameron announced that they had signed "Jumper " author Steven Charles Gould to write four AVATAR novels. One of which will be based on & expand upon the storyline of that 2009 20th Century Fox release while the other three books will be based on the three upcoming AVATAR sequels.

So just to review here: In the past month, we've had Cameron & Fox reveal their plans for the three AVATAR film sequels. We've also had Steven Charles Gould signed to write four AVATAR-inspired books to help support & expand this film franchise. And we also had that faux Imagineer's cubicle set up at the "Journey into Imagineering" pavilion at the D23 EXPO which hinted at what's soon-to-begin construction at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park.

"How soon?," you query. Obviously nothing can officially get underway until the cast & crew of "Festival of the Lion King" exit their old theater in Camp Minnie Mickey and then move into their new digs in DAK's Africa section. Once that move is complete, contractors can then flatten the old "FOTLK" theater and officially begin site prep for "James Cameron's World of AVATAR." But that said, earlier this week, I was told that two construction trailers have recently been set up out behind the barns that house the animals which wander the savannahs at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. And that these trailers will soon serve as construction headquarters for Phase One of the "World of AVATAR" project.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And just when exactly will Disney reveal more about what's going on with this DAK expansion project?," you press. Well, keep in mind that it's Cameron & Co. -- not Disney -- who's calling the shots here. And while Walt Disney Parks & Resorts would dearly love to use an AVATAR-related event as a way to eclipse some of Universal Orlando's Harry Potter publicity (One scenario that I've heard floated would have Disney staging a star-studded ground-breaking ceremony for "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" at DAK in late May / early June right in the middle of Universal's several-days-long media event for the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley), it's James who'll ultimately be determining when these announcements will be made, not the Mouse.

And given that Cameron runs by his own internal creative clock (i.e., James wrote the original treatment for AVATAR back in 1994 and had originally hoped to have had this effects-filled film shot & released by 1999. But Cameron eventually opted to put off production 'til 2008 so that the visual effects industry could then catch up to his vision for Pandora. So long story short: This is a guy who works at his own pace. Who doesn't like to be rushed) ... Well, I guess what I'm saying is that it could be a while yet before we see anything more than some black outlines of proposed plant life.

Photo by Jim Hill

Though -- that said -- I have also heard from a couple of sources at Imagineering that a piece or two of "World of AVATAR" concept art could be released later this Fall. But -- again -- that all depends on whether James Cameron finally decides that it's officially time to let the Na'vi (AKA his cat people) out of the bag.

Your thoughts?

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  • And they passed on JK Rowling because she was too controlling.  I don't think Disney knew what they were getting into with this.  I think it was a knee jerk reaction to Harry Potter.

  • Pretty sad the best that Disney can do (if they can even do that) is announce something around the time that Potter 2.0 is opening. Pandora was talked about before the construction of Potter 2 even started. The last major addition to AK was Expedition Everest over 7 years ago, and many of it's effect have been broken for a good part of that time. Since then Universal Studios has opened, or improved.... Ah too much to list.

  • The best news that could be released is that the whole thing isn't going to be done at all.  Drop the whole thing and use the time, money, and WDI for your Marvel and Star Wars properties.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I honestly don't understand this attitude. You haven't seen a single piece of concept art. You have no idea what rides, shows and attractions are being proposed by Walt Disney Imagineering. And yet you're already saying that "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" is a complete waste of WDI's time and money. I mean, wouldn't it at least be wiser to wait 'til you actually had some sense of what was going to be built at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park before you then rush to condemn the whole project.

    Man, I'm glad that the Internet was still in its infancy back in the mid-1980s. Otherwise we would have had to listen to you guys bitch & moan from February of 1985 (which is when Disney first revealed that it was working with Lucasfilm on a "Star Wars" -themed simulator ride) all the way through January of 1987 (which is when "Star Tours" first opened to the public at Disneyland Park) about what a terrible idea it was for the Imagineers to build an attraction around George Lucas' characters, etc.

    I'm kind of old school when it comes to things like "James Cameron's World of AVATAR." I actually have to see the thing first, experience it for myself before I then decide if this new DAK "land" is good or bad.

  • Honestly the land could be technically perfect and I'd still never set foot in it.

    1) Disney licensing a Fox property for theming is stupid and opens them up for all kinds of problems and complications down the line. See: Universal and Marvel.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: You do understand that Marvel Super Hero Island (right up to the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in June of 2010, that is) was the most popular "land" at Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure, right? That's one of the main reasons that Universal is in no rush to relinquish the theme park rights to the Marvel characters to the Mouse.

    2) The sequels haven't come out yet so there's no way of knowing if Avatar will be a viable franchise or a one hit wonder. I truly hope the latter because:

    3) Avatar was a sexist, racist, ablest, terrible screenplay that's a perfect example of everything wrong with mainstream Hollywood film-making. Blandy Mcblanderson white boy action hero, mighty whitey narrative, 'empowered' love interest that is totally defined by the men around her, every interesting woman and/or POC dying, and the paraplegic dude is only happy at the end because he regained his ability to walk. The graphics were incredible, but that doesn't matter when the script managed to make me want to vomit more than Twilight's did. Disney should be ashamed of using it as the basis for anything.

    The second this thing actually happens I'm never spending money in Animal Kingdom again. There is literally nothing that could make me support this and I hope it goes down like a lead balloon before it even begins.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Look, people's tastes in movies obviously differ. But from Bob Iger's point of view, the fact that the theme park rights for the highest grossing film in Hollywood history were up for grabs made going after "AVATAR" something of a no-brainer.

    More to the point, Disney designs its theme parks to appeal to a mass audience, not a group of Disney purists who only want to see rides, shows and attractions based on genuine studio properties like Winnie the Pooh (which Disney licensed the movie rights from the A.A. Milne estate), the Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling's stories were the public domain by the time this animated feature was made in 1967. Otherwise the Company would have had to license the rights to Baloo, Bagheera et al), Peter Pan (Which Disney actually did have to license the film rights to this J.M. Barrie character from London's St. Ormond Street Hospital, the charitable institution that the author deeded the rights to) and Mary Poppins (See "Seeing Mr. Banks" this holiday season if you want to learn more about Walt's nearly 15 year-old struggle to acquire the movie rights to P.L. Travers' books).

    You get the idea yet? Disney's been licensing the rights to stories & characters that the studio can build movies around and the theme parks can build rides, shows and attractions around for decades now. Why some Disney purists suddenly want to pretend that this practice is now somehow new and a complete departure from the way that the Company has typically does business just staggers me.

    I mean, sure. It's okay for you to dislike the movie "AVATAR." But to preemptively declare that " ... 'm never spending money in Animal Kingdom again" just because this is where "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" is being built just seems silly & extreme. I mean, you're seriously going to boycott an entire theme park because you think a new "land" might be terrible. You're not willing to wait to find out what the new rides, shows and attractions that the Imagineers are now designing might be. You have to hate it now. You're -- in effect -- giving yourself permission to have a FastPass to hate "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" sight unseen. That just seems ... bizarre to me. This complete waste of time & energy.

    But -- hey -- your mileage may vary.

  • Jim, I love Disney and Disneyland and all the major Disney parks.  I've been to WDW/Disneyland a lot (we joke that 1/3 of our after-tax income goes to Disney), haven't been to Uni for decades, (though I'll probably see Potterland once), the thing I, and a lot, of fans love about Disney is seeing Disney characters and reliving Disney classics, that includes the new Disney/Pixar films such as Brave, even Up.  I can't wait to see Inside Out and the Dinosaur movie (once they fix it up and release it), and while I love Star Wars/Indy, before Disney owned these properties, there was kinda a bit of heartbreak that Disney didn't have a good Sci-Fi series of films or their own Indy style franchise, though Star Tours/Indy are part of the parks now.

    Most Diseny fans, I would assume, get goosebumps when they hear about little Disney references, such as when they built HKDL on "Penny's Bay", see Merida in Disneyland, and all of the neat little details on BVS and in the Jolly Holiday restaurant.  I like Disney films from Flight of the Navigator to the Rocketeer, but you gotta realize that a lot, perhaps most, Disney fans have no emotional attachment to Avatar.  I'm a big Star Wars/Star Trek fan too, (Star Wars has probably close to a hundred books in the canon, and Star Trek probably over a couple hundred).  The world of Star Wars is full of these interesting characters who can support their own film, such as a Yoda film or Han Solo film.

    Avatar was fun watching once, but all its thrills are purely a Sci-Fi and predicament based narrative, a wheel-chair bound vet, a chain smoking scientist . . . kinda like the Alien movies, the base of the Avatar Soup ain't a universe of characters, but a specific Sci-Fi conundrum.  It's not like in Star Wars Episode IV where we see Darth Vader fly away . . . a man of mystery and we don't get to learn everything about that mystery until *5* movies and decades later!  Geez, I can't name a character in the Avatar world I want to know more about, can't even remember their names, they're kinda one dimensional.  I'd happily sit through an eight hour Lando Calrissian movie though.  Complain about Lucas all you want, it was pure genius how Han and Leia complex relations was setup with the first film, in addition to a dozen other interesting plotlines that seem to exist outside the boundaries of the theater's walls.

    So, while Disney fans would go *nuts* if they put in a "Good Dinosaur" based land, or a "Malificent's Dragon World" or a 20,000 LUTS/Jewels Verne aquatic land in Animal Kingdom, asking Disney fans to be happy about Avatarland ain't gonna happen.  Sure, I loved Terminator 1 and 2, but I don't want to read more books about Skynet, Titanic was a good movie, and I want to know more about the history of Titanic, but I don't really care to know more about the characters who survived, Rambo II, the Abyss, Aliens . . . all great films, don't really care about the backstory/world in any of them and wouldn't buy the novels, sorry.

    James Cameron does great "in-the-moment" films, which do blockbuster business, but Avatar is kinda the Home Alone of Sci-Fi, Home Alone was a great film, but I don't want to read more into the backstory because its paper thin and there's nothing there.  There's a lot of macho-military characters and realistic violence, and Weaver's "Where's my damn cigarette" line kinda makes the film a bad guy as it reinforces smoking among kids, (sorry Jim, I know something about this, positive smoking role models who use smoking to relieve stress do encourage kids to smoke so say the studies).  Avatar just ain't Disney enough for us hardcore fans.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: But you haven't seen "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" yet. How can you pass judgement on how "Disney" this new "land" at DAK is going to be is if you haven't seen a single piece of concept art or a photo of a detailed dimensional model.

    The stuff that I've been hearing directly from the folks at WDI who are actually working on "World of AVATAR" is that this new "land" builds on the lessons that Imagineering learned while working on Cars Land for DCA. More to the point, that the Imagineers now believe that "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" will actually manage to pass Cars Land and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter when it comes to immersive environments.

    When I hear jaded old Imagineers talking like that about Pandora, I sit up and take notice. I don't automatically assume that they're going to botch the job and preemptively start to bitch & moan about how unDisneylike "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" is going to be.

    Is it really so difficult (especially when we're talking about the Company that keeps talking about " ... faith, hope and pixie dust") to have a little patience and optimism? To maybe wait to pass judgement on this new "land" for DAK until AFTER you've see the concept art and some dimensional models?

  • Jim, you may be right with regards to the aesthetic look of certain portions of Avatarland.

    But, I've got a good sense of what Avatarland will probably look like based on the film and after visiting Disney parks here in the US and abroad.  I'm thinking rockwork like on Pandora, a mixture of fake and real plants, maybe some stuff with water falling down "floating" rocks.  And for the real buildings, they will of course have to be human looking as the whole land ain't gonna be 100% organic, so probably the military/research buildings from the film.  It ain't rocket surgery Jim.  ;-)

    Loved Cars and the feel of Radiator Springs, not at all surprised with what Disney built though the rockwork sure was an eye-popping surprise . . . the beauty of Radiator Springs is the nostalgia/familiarity and the characters, yeah, sure, the rockwork is nice, but like baking a cake, you need other ingredients besides the eggs.

    I'm sure I'll mildly enjoy walking around Avatarland with its rain-forest type feel, but I've never dreamed of visiting Pandora.  Sorry, and Avatarland will have to compete with the real flora and fauna of AK.  Hogsmeade is a wonderful place, made real in the books first, and I'm sure when I go there it will be like chicken soup for the soul.  I'd love to sit in the Mos Eisley Cantina and sip a blue drink . . . and while Avatar, the film, was thought provoking, I don't have any desire to visit the world of Pandora as I'm not into the characters, and it looked totally contrived to look good in 3-D.  Me in the Mos Eisley Cantina is a lifelong dream and a "touchdown" after reading a lot of the books and seeing the films, I ain't going to be hi-fiving anybody and celebrating, "We're finally on Pandora!"

    You know, when they were making Disney Cinderella's they put a lot of time into researching period appropriate backgrounds, and studios doing some of the more funky psychedelic films wondered why Disney just didn't make everything fantastical . . . you have to make the world of Cinderella real so that when you see that pumpkin turn into a carriage you believe it.  If everything is a special glowing flower or a big fake tree . . . then it is hard to believe in anything in the land.

    When I first heard about Hogesmeade, I was really intrigued, and when I saw the first concept art (maybe on your site which is quite good with this stuff), my thought was: Uni nailed it.  You can build a Hogesmeade which is as good as the one in the film and meets expectations of readers.  Love reading Harry Potter, going to Hogesmeade is another touchdown moment.  Jim, you can't make Pandora like in the film, even so, I'm not interested in looking at tons of make-believe plants and physically impossible floating rocks.  When everything is special, nothing is special.

    Decades after Star Wars first came out, and just five minutes ago I'm quoting Return of the Jedi.  I can't remember a single line from Avatar, (outside of 'where's my damn cigarette') or a character that I thought was "cool".  Cameron does great films, but he hasn't yet created "worlds" which are big enough to hold hundreds of stories and interesting characters, all of his films have basically been one-offs, or films where the action is the big seller and an evolving plot is secondary to imagery.

  • If you doubt the drive of James Cameron, I encourage you to watch the documentary on the making of his film "The Abyss."  The man is relentless when it comes to fulfilling his vision. I think what we're going to see is going to be beyond what any of us can imagine.

  • Also, Jim, Disney didn't invent Pooh or Poppins . . . but the Disney's version of Pooh and Poppins were created by the masters and I'd say improved upon and "Disney-fied".  Loved the last Pooh movie.  Disney had no part in Avatar's creation or development.  Just because a film is a blockbuster doesn't mean it should be a land in a Disney theme park.  Argo and the Life of Pi are both great films, really loved Pi, just saw it on television.  Don't want to visit the world of Argo or Pi, Jim, so being a box office success doesn't mean I want to visit a theme park land based on the film.  Life of Pi has great visuals, but I don't want to see the mango forest in the ocean made real.  Some worlds we're fine with seeing on the big screen, then we want to move on.  Haven't seen a good Tom Sawyer film in a while, (or a good western), but Frontierland and Tom Sawyer Island are always fun to visit . . .

  • thanks for your comments Jim..im pumped for this expansion...looking forward to world of avatar...i hope WDI is given a proper budget to do a true pandora with floating mountains!

  • Robert, the Abyss kinda proves me point.  I sure remember this film, as I recall, it had some groundbreaking CGI in it, as did Terminator 2, as did Avatar.  I don't remember much about the Abyss, maybe that they had to "breathe" liquid and that there were aliens in the film.  When you sitting watching the Abyss, it's a great film as it is an above average sci-fi film, but . . . I wasn't clamoring for an Abyss 2, or to read more about said creatures.  Cameron is similar to how Michael Crichton wove a tale, you'd have an interesting Sci-Fi plot twist/element, and build a film around it.  With Star Wars, Lucas started with mythology and tried and true general plot outlines and beyond the Sci-Fi, the hyperdrives and cloning, you've got the Force and these great characters that all seem to have hints about their amazing backstories in the films.  

    Sorry to say, but a lot of Cameron's characters are more two-dimensional and the difficult situation they have to deal with is more important/entertaining than the characters themselves.  Avatar and Abyss's "world" only needs to hold up to scrutiny for the length of the film . . . with Star Wars, you want to dive into the world of droids and wookies and read and learn more about them, not so much with Cameron's films.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Okay. So your argument now is that James Cameron's "AVATAR" isn't / wasn't a great movie. Given that it sold nearly $3 billion worth of tickets worldwide, this Academy Award-winner is / was undeniably a popular film. But since this motion picture obviously didn't appeal to your cinematic palate, than then makes "AVATAR" something that you wouldn't want to see a new "land" for DCA built around.

    But here's the thing, Anonymouse: Sometimes fairly mediocre movies can lead to pretty impressive theme park attractions. Case in point: "Third Man on the Mountain." This Ken Annakin film was shot on location in Zermatt, Switzerland during the Summer of 1958. And while this Michael Rennie / James MacArthur vehicle didn't exactly set the box office on fire, it did lead to the development of one of Disneyland Park's most popular / longest lasting thrill rides. Which is the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

    So even if you personally didn't care for James Cameron's "AVATAR," you have to admit that the lush, green world of Pandora and the other-worldly characters that you encountered there could make for some pretty interesting fodder to build some theme park attractions around.

  • I'll wait and see before making any judgments. So far, every Disney project I have seen has been great - even the ones that I wasn't thrilled about when  they were announced. I've been to WDF 26 times over the years, but I'm just  afraid that, but the time it is opened, WDW will be out of my price range.

  • I disagree with Avatarland as a Disney stockholder purely for strategic and financial reasons.

    Your article points out one of the MANY issues with this, in that Disney DOESN'T control Avatar. They can't even control the timeline for the attractions. I agree with John on this point. Although there could be a silver lining to this, in that hopefully Cameron won't allow them to build anything on the cheap or allow it to fall into disrepair.

    Second, IF someone gets excited about Avatar after visiting the DAK land, then Disney gets little to nothing of the benefit of that. If they decide to buy the DVD, Cameron and Fox get the money. If they decide to buy the books, Cameron gets the money. If they decide to buy some merchandise, Cameron gets the money. The ONLY money that Disney will get is IF they buy any of the above at a Disney owned store. Case in point, the live action version of Alice in Wonderland made a billion dollars in worldwide box office, but only made around 100 million in after market sales (including DVD). Toy Story 3 made about a billions dollars in worldwide box office, but made 5 billion dollars in after market sales. THIS is why Disney stock trades MUCH higher than other industry stock.

    This has ALWAYS been Disney's strategic advantage over all the other theme parks (including Uni) is they own and control most (if not all) of the IP in their theme parks (and now that they bought Lucasfilm, they own 98% of the IP. Twilight Zone being the only exception that I can think of).

    Finally, ESPECIALLY since Disney just paid Billions for Lucasfilm, I think that it would make more financial sense for Disney to spend their limited capital on Star Wars related properties. They could EASILY adapt a Star Wars property to DAK (think Endor or the Wookie home planet). And if they did that, ALL of the above issues would evaporate.

  • I'm with Jim here....shortly after Pandora was announced, I got to meet Jim and sit with him and hear him talk about all things Disney.  Needless to say the new Avatarland project got brought up and Jim mentiond that the imagineers were blindsided by the decision and had no idea how this would play out.  At that point I was pretty negative on the project and thought it might be quietly swept under the rug as little was heard about it for well over a year.  

    But now, I am seeing the items presented at D23 and I am hearing Jim say that Disney is bringing the same level of detail that went into Carsland and Harry Potter to this new Animal Kingdom project.  I am also hearing Jim say that the imagineers are excited about the project.  This, to me, is great!  I am now really looking forward to seeing what they can do with this.  This project could wind up being a transforming moment for Animal Kingdom...a park that needs a boost that a single ride can not deliver at this point.  

    So I am looking forward to Pandora....and I only saw Avatar as a rental and didn't care much about the movie as a whole.  But the possibilities that are being hinted at are too good to be ignored.  Saying "I won't step foot in Animal Kingdom if they build this" is the hieght of arrogance and, frankly, among the more stupid comments I have ever read on this web site.

  • Jim, I'm not saying that Avatar wasn't a box office success.  James Cameron has a slew of box office successes, but that doesn't mean that Disney fans want to spend hours exploring the world of Terminator, Titanic, or Avatar.  I really liked these films, but don't want a theme park land based on them, and I don't watch the films again and again to live in that world or whatever.

    As you yourself pointed out, box office receipts may not correlate with the popularity of an attraction.  Personally, I love Third Man on the Mountain and love whipping out the DVD every couple years to watch, but you don't have to have seen Third Man on the Mountain to enjoy the bobsleds.  The bobsleds are self-evident and self-explanatory . . . big snowy mountain, fast coaster, no Third Man on the Mountain references as far as I know!

    I enjoyed watching Avatar on DVD, fast paced, action, amazing visuals . . . but after that ride is over, the thrill has been kinda used up, the protagonist lost his human body and is a blue alien, Weaver is dead . . . sure, Obi-Wan Kenobe dies in Star Wars, but I can, and have watched the original Star Wars dozens of times, seen Avatar once or twice and have a DVD collecting dust.  I don't have any *questions* regarding the fate of the characters in Avatar or really care if the military whackos come back to harass the aliens again.  Star Wars was, and is, a gigantic mystery box.  I still want to know more about Yoda, Han's past adventures with Lando, Leia . . .

    Look at Saving Private Ryan, big box office/critical hit.  I don't anybody thinks that should be made into a land in a theme park.  Here's some other box office successes that shouldn't be made into lands in a theme park:

    The Hunger Games

    The Dark Knight

    Forest Gump

    Independence Day

    The Twightlight Saga

    The Sixth Sense


    Home Alone

    Men in Black

    Night at the Museum (Ooops, I guess they already did that in Mystic Manor!)

    Bruce Almighty



    Bourne franchise films

    The Da Vinci Code

    Alvin and the Chipmunks

    Austin Powers

    Wedding Crashers

    The Pasion of Christ

    Look at Disneyland's lands . . . Frontierland (not Davy Crocket land), Fantasyland (not Peter Pan and Friends World presented by Disney) . . . with Avatarland, Disney is kinda asking all of the guests to explore/learn about and think about Avatar while in this land, Avatar just doesn't have the warm fuzzy feelings that Cars has, or that nostalgia for Walt has with BVS. I kinda can't get into enjoying an Avatarland in part because the film evokes all of the really sad stuff that happened in the film, and the characters are forgetable and stock-Cameron . . . military guys, neurotic scientists/experts . . .

    Oh, by the way, the timeline concerning Avatarland is very suspicious.  Months after Iger announces Avatarland, Lucas agrees to give Disney Star Wars in part because he likes how Disney uses Star Wars in the theme parks.  Hmmmm . . . Lucas is negotiating for over a year with Disney and then caves within months when Disney announces Avatarland?

    Iger ain't no imagineer, he's not even a creative type, Jim, so I think his decision to kinda "make a blockbuster like Potter" into a land might well backfire, it's an art, not just box office receipts and then selecting a film based on that or how good the movie looked.

  • Nobody has brought this up yet, at least on this site, but . . . Avatarland kinda would stick out like a sore thumb in Animal Kingdom, you've got Africa, Asia, . . . and then the "World of James Cameron's Avatar" . . . huh?  Yeah, Avatar's blue aliens are . . . technically animals being aliens, Pandora is kinda wilderness, but that is where the similarities end.  You've got violent military macho types as the villains, never thought I'd see that in Animal Kingdom, even if they aren't present in Avatarland, how can you not think about the film?  

    Expedition Everest continues the historical/gritty feel of many parts of AK, but nothing in Avatarland is based off of anything real.  I kinda get the feeling it will be a sort of "world of the Lorax" type place where you're smoothered with one franchise.  Yeah, the blue people care about their world, but that was plot element!  The whole movie was the evil corporation military against the environmentalist aliens!  People get that, they don't want to explore a paper thin backstory, learning how the blue aliens live or recycle their garbage.

    I'm not a thrill seeker, I kinda like detailed queues and themed lands, if I'm not *into* Avatar's world, which I'm not, then I won't get a lot of pleasure from Avatarland, other than observing how various technological/construction challenges were tackled.  You'd think a boat ride into the world of Avatar would be cool, but if you don't buy into the reality then it won't work, and they can't faithfully recreate most of the glowing plants/animals from Pandora without using screens and CGI.  Yeah, the scientists/work in Avatar looked cool in the film, but I don't want to gawk at made-up displays about what the scientists are learning about the blue aliens . . .

    Why not use a theme that isn't so restrictive?  Like a whole land for Dinosaurs?

    Reality is that if Disney did an Australia land, put in some Austrlian animals, added an Outback Barbecue and put in a cool new ride, maybe two, folks would flock to see that just as much as Avatarland.  AK has done very well with the Zoo/animals theme . . . kinda a stretch to say that Pandora belongs there.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: So you find the idea of "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" jarring in a place where there are real animals from Africa & Asia ... Yet you're okay with the Cast Members walking around in the Mickey & Minnie Mouse costumes?

    Look, you've been bending over backwards to set up row after row of straw man arguments. Citing other top grossing movies that it would be stupid for Disney to build a theme park "land" around. Long story short: "James Cameron's World of AVATAR" just doesn't fit your concept of what belongs in a Disney theme park. And you'll continue to come up with arguments & examples as to why you're right and I'm wrong.

    But here's the thing, Anonymouse. The Disney theme parks aren't supposed to appeal to two guys who can cite Disney theme park & movie history 'til the cast of "Home on the Range" comes home. They're meant to appeal to the ten of millions of people who vacation annually in Central Florida. I mean, you do realize that one of the main reasons that Iger & Staggs made this deal with Cameron & Fox Filmed Entertainment was that DAK had the lowest attendance levels of the four WDW parks? And that by throwing a land themed around "AVATAR" into Animal Kingdom, Bob & Tom were kind of hoping that some of the people around the globe who went to go see this James Cameron film would then maybe spring for a ticket to DAK.

    But to be blunt here, I'm kind of growing tired of this back-and-forth. Especially since there is a very big Deja Vu component to this " 'AVATAR'-doesn't-belong-in-a-Disney-Park" argument that you & other Disney purists keep on bringing up. I remember all too well all the whining that went on twenty years ago this month when the Imagineers officially broke ground on the "Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye" attraction at Disneyland Park. All of the annual passholders who -- without having actually ridden through the thing -- would go on & on about how this ride didn't belong in Adventureland, how (once "Forbidden Eye" opened) it would ruin the charm of The Jungle Cruise, etc.

    For 19 months, I had to listen to Disneyland annual passholders (many of them good friends of mine) bitch & moan about how terrible Indy was going to be, how this one attraction was going to completely ruin Disneyland Park for these people. But then when "Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye" opened in March of 1995, this Disney diehards all changed their tunes pretty damned quick. They now couldn't help but crow about how it was their theme park -- rather than the three WDW parks that were up & running at that time -- who had this cutting edge attraction. And these folks would then happily stand in line for two hours or more as they decoded all of the glyphs found in Indy's extended & heavily themed queue.

    So let me make a predication here: We're going to see a repeat of the "Temple of the Forbidden Eye" phenomenon with "James Cameron's World of AVATAR." With Disney purists complaining longly & loudly about how this non-Disney property doesn't belong inside of a Disney theme park. And this complaining will continue right up until the first annual passholder preview for Pandora and then mysteriously fade away. Because -- of course -- the Imagineers aren't going to built the ill-fitting, poorly laid out "land" that you seem to have already built in your head, Anonymouse. But -- rather -- WDI will come up with something very much like DCA's Cars Land. Which -- while it wows WDW visitors -- still nicely fits in with all of the other "lands," rides, shows & attractions at DAK.

    But -- again -- because I'm obviously wrong here and you're right, feel free to go ahead and pile up some more straw men. I just don't see much point in continuing the conversation at this point.

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