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October 14, 2013
Avatarland is Real
Two years after the surprise announcement, Disney and Jim Cameron finally are showing off concept art and a model for what Pandora will really look like when it comes to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Now due in 2017. Wow. That's a long way off. And almost 2 years after the original planned opening.
The Mouse calls this the largest expansion in the history of the park. It also means that when it opens, Avatarland will bring the first new attractions to Disney's 4th gate since Expedition Everest & Finding Nemo: The Musical in 2006. That means 11 years will pass with no major opening, for those keeping track.
Well, after all of this time, lets look at the art now released and what it tells us about what is coming.
First of all -- yep. It's pretty. That's a rough look at what entering the new land will feel like. The picture of the model (below) gives us a more realistic feel of what it will actually take to make this a reality. Expect lots of blending between real greenery and imagineered plants to bring Avatar to life.
It is still hard to see how this all fits together, but it does feel very lush and "Animal Kingdomy." I understand many details have been hammered back and forth for months now.
What the other images show are the two rides planned for the area.
That's the smaller of the two attractions - a "boat ride" through the bioluminescent forests of the moon. The other major ride will let you experience what it is like to "fly" on the backs of the giant beasts nicknamed banshees.
I understand this will be a simulator, but much more advanced than, say, Star Tours 2.0. though exact details on the ride system are being kept close to the vest. It will, however, feature 3-d animation from the same artists who worked on the movie and its 3 upcoming sequels.
Disney also announced that, for those not interested in giant blue people, the expansion will also feature a new night-time version of the park's signature Kilamanjaro Safari (which actually was tested out in 1998 and abandoned) It will also feature a new nighttime spectacular on the Discovery River, centered on the park's iconic Tree of Life.
In all -- this is an impressive, if long overdue, addition to what is personally my favorite park to enjoy. Avatarland has many critics, but the artwork shows how the area can still be gorgeous and enjoyable if you have never seen the movie(s).
What many find curious is the timing. The art was presented at the first D23 convention in Japan. I understand Disney's execs wanted something to "wow" those who came to this event. CEO Bob Iger has made it clear that he wants to see versions of Avatar appear at some of its other resorts. Getting fans excited in Japan could be part of a push to get the Oriental Land Company (which 100% owns Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea and the Tokyo Disney Resort) to whip out the checkbook.
Others are asking: is Disney doing enough? Keep in mind in the time it takes to clear out Camp Minnie-Mickey, then build and open Avatar, Universal will open Harry Potter Part 2, Cabana Bay, and at least two other major attractions not yet revealed. I understand announcements for the future of Hollywood Studios should come much sooner than later, but the scope of that project has reportedly changed several times. There are also rumblings about something being done to improve Epcot's Imagination pavilion. That may or may not happen. As it stands now, there is NOTHING announced or under construction at the other 3 Disney parks, aside from a restaurant in Epcot's Morocco and the how-the-heck-long-can-it-possibly-take-to-build Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster in Fantasyland. Will the promise of Avatar be enough to keep you coming back to the mouse house?
Meanwhile -- for a closer look at the Avatar additions -- below is the video Disney and Jim Cameron put out about it. It shows a bit more of the model and a brief test of the simulator.
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