Disney announces partnership with James Cameron for Avatar attractions, starting at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Posted Wednesday, September 21, 2011 10:47 AM | Contributed by maXairMike

From the Disney Parks Blog:

Walt Disney Imagineering, Bob Iger and Tom Staggs just announced a long-term creative partnership with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Fox Filmed Entertainment to bring the fantasy world of AVATAR to life at Disney Parks. And it’ll all begin at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

Read more from the official Disney Parks Blog, as well as Q&A about the announcement.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011 11:35 PM
Jeff's avatar

That it almost instantly turned to conversation about Harry Potter is very telling. It was one movie, and while I haven't seen it (also telling, being a bit of a movie addict), the critical response is generally that it's the best eye candy wrapping a weak and predictable story that has been told a hundred times. If that's true, the cultural impact is not, I suspect, a long-term arrangement that will attract bodies to Disney parks.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Thursday, September 22, 2011 6:57 AM

It was already talked about in the news quite a long time ago now that there absolutely are plans for Avatar 2 and 3. I assumed this announcement is to be for the eventual tie in. While I really liked the movie, it was more about the world, the creatures and the 3D than the storyline which was formulaic at best - I can't see this being an amusement park draw either.


Thursday, September 22, 2011 6:59 AM

eightdotthree said:
I guess this means we will see Avatar 2 and 3.

That's been the case since not long after Avatar made a gazillion dollars.

Given Cameron's track record ($6,000,000,000 worldwide as director), it's a safe bet that the next 2 (or perhaps more) Avatar movies will make a few more Titanic loads of cash, and in the process create an enormous fan base for the franchise.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011 9:35 AM

the best eye candy wrapping a weak and predictable story that has been told a hundred times.

I don't think that's a problem for a theme park environment. There was a longer story by Jim Hill (I know) in HuffPo (I know x2) about the backstory for how this came about. The short answer: "people dig the idea of going to Pandora and checking it out."


Money quote from Tom Staggs:

"One of the things that we found when we screened (AVATAR) was that the scenes that people liked best were not the obvious things, like the big battle scenes, and that sort of thing. It was the creatures. It was learning to fly. It was being in the forest at night. The impression that we got was people just like to go to Pandora,"

I don't think the film's story matters much. What matters is the world that the film has constructed. Who better to undertake the physical realization of that world than WDI?

Last edited by Brian Noble, Thursday, September 22, 2011 9:39 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:01 AM
Vater's avatar

Totally agree with Brian's post. I'd argue that with a few exceptions, most of James Cameron's films are long on visuals and entertainment while short on story. Yet I think many of them would be great candidates for immersive experiences in a theme park setting.

Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:32 AM
Jeff's avatar

I'm still waiting for Titanic 2: Zombies and Aliens.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:35 AM
janfrederick's avatar

I was thinking more along the lines of Lusitania.

"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza
Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:44 AM


Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:53 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

'Avatar' — a sad consolation prize for Disney

Does this mean the 'meh' stretches further than our little bubble?

Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:59 AM

That article is pretty spot-on. It's true that when Harry Potter was announced the reaction was more like, "Universal can't pull this off, it should have been Disney!" Everyone acknowledged what a coup it was for Universal. With Avatar it's more of a mix reaction with a range from "Hooray for anything!" to "You sure about that?" to "Meh". Maybe we've all just turned so cynical that we can't think straight anymore, or maybe just maybe the Avatar property isn't the best of ideas for a Disney park.

"Thank the Phoneticians!"

Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:05 PM

Does this mean the 'meh' stretches further than our little bubble?

An Orlando Sentinel opinion piece? The newspaper in a one-paper company town is even more insular than our bubble.

I also disagree with the premise of the article. The best Disney *films* are based on great characters, dialogue, and storytelling. The *parks* are based on great immersive environments with just enough backstory to give a cohesive feel to each one.

Avatar seems ready-made for the latter.

Would Disney have been better off with Potter? Probably (assuming they could work with Rowling---who apparently has strong feelings about what butter beer tastes like). But, they don't have it. This gives them a rich palette and a blank canvas, and what they *do* have is a bunch of great artists who can probably work with those to do something neat.

Let's look at some of the big draws in the Magic Kingdom, attraction-wise. What are they based on?

Splash Mountain: a very average movie that is a string of vignettes with at best loose connections between them, but an awesome attraction.

Space Mountain: "Let's rocket to space!" A genre more than a specific property

Haunted Mansion: "Ghosts reluctant to show themselves in haunted house. Soothsayer calls them. Par-tay ensues."

Pirates might be the best one, but it's still: "Pirates invade, sack town with sense of humor, sail away from burning town with spoils." In this case, the film franchise is much *richer* than the attraction, but the attraction still may be one of the pinnacles of attraction design, all time.

This genre-not-property idea spans to most of the Disney "lands" as well. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first property-specific land Disney has proposed. And, I bet it ends up using the property as a jumping off point rather than something that circumscribes the story. In the Potterverse, the property *dictates* the land, but the property is rich enough to pull that off. In Pandora, it isn't, so they will have to stretch.

At least, I hope they stretch.

Edited to add: and that line in the Staggs quote about 'seeing things they never saw in the films' suggests that stretching is exactly what they have in mind.

Last edited by Brian Noble, Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:09 PM
Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:16 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Brian Noble said:
An Orlando Sentinel opinion piece? The newspaper in a one-paper company town is even more insular than our bubble.

Well, admittedly, it's not a Jim Hill article on the Huffingon Post, but... ;)

Here's my take after a day or two of observing.

This could have been any property. Disney has a knack for taking the sparest of properties (or original content) and turning them into attractions people dig.

Will this work? Sure. It's not like it's going to suck. But it's greatness will have nothing to do with Avatar being attached. Take whatever Disney comes up with and lay any property blanket over it and it'd be good (as evidenced by the classic rides you mention). But with the general apathy that it feels like I'm seeing towards Avatar as something meaningful in people's lives, this one will be successful in spite of Avatar, not because of it.

Avatar just really seems like an odd choice. Maybe 2 & 3 come out and Avatarmania sweeps the nation, but it seems like the only thing people talked about with the first was how much money it made. No one ever seemed to talk about the movie. There's an odd disconnect there.

Last edited by Lord Gonchar, Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:22 PM
Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:21 PM

Universal swung for the fences with Potter, and hit a grand slam. With Avatar, Disney is swinging for a double; as such, the most they can expect is a double. Unless the centerfielder muffs the bounce and Disney stretches it into a three-bagger with an error.

Okay, somebody shoot this baseball analogy...

My author website: mgrantroberts.com

Thursday, September 22, 2011 2:43 PM

Well, admittedly, it's not a Jim Hill article on the Huffingon Post, but...

Dude, I mea-culpa'd that three different times. I don't know what more you want other than spit shining your...whatever. ;)

Avatar just really seems like an odd choice.

Maybe. The thing is, it's such *good* visual eye-candy. I'm not sure if I can think of a property with similar "wow factor" in the visuals that they might have gone after to create an immersive world out of.

That's a good question, actually: can we think of something that provides a more compelling "sense of place" to try to replicate in a theme park setting?

Edited to add: bonus points of the property *also* has a halfway decent story and a character whose name you remember...

Last edited by Brian Noble, Thursday, September 22, 2011 2:45 PM
Thursday, September 22, 2011 2:53 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

I'm thinking Disney is capable of creating their own 'sense of place' that would be downright incredible as well - hell, even 'inspired' by the Avatar stuff if need be. (read: ripoff)

Just seems weird to attach Avatar to it given what I see as a lack of enthusiasm or real connection with the material from most folks. Maybe that's my own little bubble influencing my perception, but I really don't know anyone who truly got into Avatar. I don't know a single kid who clamored for Avatar merchandise.

Sure the built-in recognition and backstory don't hurt, but it all just seems 'off' for some reason.

A lot can happen in five years and two movies. That could be a really good bet or a not so great one, I suppose.

Thursday, September 22, 2011 3:52 PM
Jeff's avatar

Ah, see you used the magic word there that I haven't been able to find: Connection. Who has a "connection" with Avatar? I don't think I know anyone who does. You can theme the crap out of anything, and make an amazing environment, but if you don't connect with it, who cares? What reason is there to ever do it again?

And for the record, why are they putting "it" in the world's best zoo?

If there is anything that they should be spending time and energy on, it's George Lucas, to build something around Star Wars that's more than a simulator. And hey, it's a theme park, so they can keep changing it and everyone will be OK with it. "Noooooooooooo!"

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Thursday, September 22, 2011 3:52 PM

A point was made elsewhere (on a Disney site, I believe) that Avatar has never been a barn-burner in terms of merchandise. Considering that Cars Land is existing almost entirely on the back of its successful merchandising it seems odd that Disney would back something like Avatar.

I've always thought Disney's own Atlantis: The Lost Empire seemed very similar to the ideas in Avatar (remote and spiritually inter-connected civilization threatened by profiteering explorers, hero falls in love with a native, etc.). While I doubt an Atlantis attraction would light the world on fire considering the movie was a disappointment financially, it would at least be something Disney already owns.

In terms of other immersive properties, The Lord of the Rings, along with Harry Potter, has been talked about for years as something Disney should go after. If you want to talk about a property that has resonated through generations, has a strong following, and a tremendously rich visual vocabulary by way of Peter Jackson's films, LOTR seems like a clear choice.

Heck, Disney's own upcoming John Carter of Mars could also be a potential "wow" universe. The early glimpses of John Carter have drawn comparisons to Avatar among other things. Why they wouldn't want to wait it out and see how that franchise goes before buying into Avatar is kind of strange.

"Thank the Phoneticians!"

Thursday, September 22, 2011 5:50 PM

Jeff said:

If there is anything that they should be spending time and energy on, it's George Lucas, to build something around Star Wars that's more than a simulator.

I don't understand why this hasn't happened. I mean the Star Wars franchise will most likely be more viable in the future, than Avatar. Especially, if the next two films tank badly.

The Indiana Jones franchise could be put in the same category as Star Wars, as far as viability is concerned.

Thursday, September 22, 2011 6:23 PM

I can see this land also filling the niche of night spectacular for the park. I would expect 3-4 attractions if it is going to be the size and scope of Carsland. I'm in" wait and see" mode because they are in the first blue sky phase. Look at Tokyo DisneySea as what Imagineers can do if they get the chance. Mysterious Island's main attractions are considered to be some of the best imagineering have done in recent years.

Last edited by otterkpr, Thursday, September 22, 2011 6:24 PM
Thursday, September 22, 2011 6:52 PM

Tokyo DisneySea should be all the more reason to let Imagineering create their own unique universes instead of importing one from outside. While much of DisneySea is admittedly inspired by preexisting ideas (the novels of Jules Verne, Arabian Nights, among other classic stories) it is largely a tribute to what Disney can create for themselves without a franchise powering it. Apparently guests to the American parks "need" to have a movie-based character for their theme park attractions nowadays.

"Thank the Phoneticians!"


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