Wednesday 21 September 2011

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Disney Makes Plans for Avatar Land

Disney announced yesterday that they have secured the rights to build theme park lands based on the movie Avatar.  The first one of these lands is scheduled to open at Disney's Animal Kingdom in 2014, just before the sequels to Avatar are scheduled to start hitting the theatres.  This, of course, assumes that either Disney or James Cameron are capable of sticking to schedule.  Cameron delayed Avatar for 13 years while waiting for technology to catch up to where he needed it to be for the making of his movie, and Disney is famous for having "flexible" opening dates.  If you can find a betting house willing to take your action, I'm pretty sure you're going to want the "over" on that 2014 date.

I'm not sure how I feel about Avatar Land.  I haven't seen any details on the partnership, but I question whether or not Disney needed to bring in an outsider movie to make an attraction out of.  There were so many other options on their plate.  They have a working relationship with George Lucas, and I know my kids would have loved to see a full out "Star Wars Land".  They could definitely have expanded upon the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and made a full "Pirates Land" out of it, and of course my wife is still waiting for somebody to announce a "Hugh Jackman Without His Shirt On Land".  So many other options.

To me though, the interesting part of this relationship is going to be the budget for the park.  Somehow I can't picture Disney and James Cameron having quite the same vision when it comes to where the money should go. Let's assume Disney has a budget of around five hundred million for the park, close to the rumored amount being spent on the new Cars Land at California Adventure.  For Disney that should mean one E-ticket ride, a couple of smaller rides, and a lot of theming.  James Cameron should be able to bring that five hundred million dollar park in for just over two billion dollars, consisting of a single ride.  It would, however, be Disney's first F-ticket ride, combining some new 5-D technology with a gravity reversal system and the introduction of a new species of actual flying dragons.  James Cameron with Disney's money is a scary thought.

So what are we likely to see in Avatar Land?  No details have been announced, but I'm going to go ahead and speculate (because that's what I do) on one obvious feature.  You're going to need another tree.  You can't build a land focused on the Na'vi people without their Tree of Souls.  This, to me, is what makes Animal Kingdom a strange choice as a host park for Avatar Land.  Animal Kingdom already has a tree.  A really big one.  Do you really need two giant trees in one theme park?  I'll grant you that, based on my experience there this July, any extra shade that can be provided in Animal Kingdom is welcome, but I was thinking more along the lines of a tarp and a few more misters, not a second giant tree.  Nobody tell James Cameron that there's going to be two trees or we'll have a two hundred and fifty million dollar zipline between the two of them.

As strange a pairing as I think it is, I'll have to confess that the opening of Avatar Land will almost certainly be enough to get me back to Orlando.  There's too many creative minds at work here for things to go completely astray.  I do worry about the crowds though.  Of the four Disney parks in Florida, Animal Kingdom was already the one with the worst traffic flow.  Now you're going to open a major new land there and draw in millions of new people?  We may need that new tree and zipline just to be able to get around Animal Kingdom after this place opens.