Walt Disney World offers peek into development of Avatar land for Animal Kingdom

Posted Friday, February 27, 2015 10:10 AM | Contributed by Jeff

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Friday, February 27, 2015 11:02 AM

Some really neat things there; I'm sure this will be a cool experience, considering it's Disney.

But...it's still Avatar. :|

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Friday, February 27, 2015 3:21 PM

This certainly has the potential to be a success but that won't necessarily be tied to any preexisting affection the audiences might or might not have for the film (and whatever happens with the sequels). It will likely succeed as a well-produced themed environment that is largely unlike anything guests might have seen before.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 12:23 AM

Very true.

And yet, I still wonder: you have a license to create a themed area based on one (very) successful film, and then you acquire Star Wars -- why you don't pay Mr Cameron a very handsome fee, tell him "it's not you, it's us" and let Imagineering loose on the Star Wars universe?

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 12:49 AM

Because you can create areas based on two of the most profitable movie franchises ever instead of just one.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 12:53 AM

They probably will be set loose (or at least relatively loose) soon enough. But with Avatar I think Disney saw an opportunity to build something for Animal Kingdom that could accomplish a few goals, namely to expand the park's offerings and provide something to keep guests their after dark while generally aligning with the themes of the park.

While I'm sure Disney would love for a groundswell of Avatar love to manifest in the coming years I have a feeling they are very aware of how much "capital" the IP does or does not have in the hearts of the public and they have likely budgeted things accordingly.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 1:07 AM

Star Wars is a movie franchise. Avatar is one successful movie which is not yet a franchise. The first Star Wars movie was followed by five other (to varying degrees) successful movies, and TV series, and a great many books, and a vast array of merchandising. Avatar was not.

I think TimChat2 has it right: Animal Kingdom's Avatar land will succeed based on the created environment.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 10:44 AM

I think he's right too. This will succeed in spite of the Avatar license, not because of it.

But still Avatar is THE highest grossing film of all time and there's no reason to believe the sequels won't follow suit. Which would put the money generated by the trilogy well into the range of the elite (if not become the leader itself).

I don't think it has the cultural relevance of a Star Wars or Harry Potter, but you don't let go of the license to the highest grossing movie of all time just because you snagged another golden ticket. You go with both.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 11:32 AM

Something can make a lot of money and still be culturally irrelevant or hard to capitalize on. Unless you think your collection of Alf pogs are really valuable. ;)

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 12:53 PM

Absolutely true.

But if I'm looking for a movie license to hedge my bets against. You're going to be hard pressed to convince me that the highest grossing film of all time isn't right up there in terms of potential.

And more to the point, I certainly don't drop what I felt was a good bet (Avatar) just because I came across a sure second bet (Star Wars).

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 1:19 PM

Avatar is the highest grossing movie ever. But it doesn't necessarily follow the sequels will be equally as popular.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 1:38 PM

Exactly.

But if you had to make a bet, would you bet with or against it?

Obviously, Disney felt they had an opportunity with Avatar (and on paper it makes sense, I suppose). You don't pull out of that just because another opportunity came along.

---

Seems that there's two discussions happening here.

1. The validity of Avatar. (which we all generally think was a silly move to make)

2. (and this is the one I'm mostly addressing based on your earlier post) What to do (if anything) with Avatar now that Star Wars came along.

I say there's no sense it killing a potential win just because you have a second sure win available. Why not win twice?

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 1:50 PM

I will walk into AvatarLand and say "What the F is that?" Then right after I'll say "Oooh, that's cool."

For that reason I predict it will be a success.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 1:55 PM

If I were the Disney CEO (and I'm far from that, of course), I'd be more interested in spending mountains of money on the proven property that the company owns, rather than dividing that mountain of money between that and the very popular movie the company has a license for.

California Adventure was supposed to be a potential win -- cost effective second gate -- and didn't work out so well.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 2:04 PM

slithernoggin said:

If I were the Disney CEO (and I'm far from that, of course), I'd be more interested in spending mountains of money on the proven property that the company owns, rather than dividing that mountain of money between that and the very popular movie the company has a license for.

Fair enough. Armchair CEO Slitthernoggin would drop Avatar in favor of more Star Wars.

But earlier you asked:

I still wonder: you have a license to create a themed area based on one (very) successful film, and then you acquire Star Wars -- why you don't pay Mr Cameron a very handsome fee, tell him "it's not you, it's us" and let Imagineering loose on the Star Wars universe?

I'm simply answering that from the POV of Disney.

Obviously, they feel Avatar is a good bet. If you have a good bet, you don't drop it just because you have more good bets.

And as far as doubling down on Star Wars, I would guess the rate of return decreases the deeper you get into it (again speaking from an assumed Disney POV) and that the same money spent on Avatar (assuming it's a good bet, which Disney believes it to be) delivers more of a return.

In other words, I'm just trying to answer your question as I believe Disney probably sees it. :)

If I were CEO, I wouldn't have gone with Avatar in the first place which makes the whole discussion moot. But Disney did and here we are.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 7:58 PM

Well, Real World Slithernoggin agrees with you down the line. Disney isn't dumb (most of the time -- DCA as originally conceived was just not a good idea...), and the company isn't going on with Avatar Land without being pretty sure it's going to be an asset to DAK.

Armchair CEO Slither, on the other hand, would have gone a different way and enjoys contemplating such.

If you'll excuse me, A-CEO Slither has to get back to determining how to use the land now available in Sandusky after the removal of the Good Times Theater and Turnpike Cars....

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Sunday, March 1, 2015 1:04 PM

A-CEO Slither is forgetting one very important part of the equation:

Disney has more than one park, thus they need more than 1 large expansion project in Florida alone, and certainly for some other of their 10, soon to be 12 parks around the globe. Putting aside Star Wars Fanboy dreams, and needs of wanting it now, Gonch has it quite right that you don't kick one IP out just because you also found another one that's a slam dunk.

We've beaten the Avatar debate to death, and I for one have never been a huge fan. This is especially true when put in context of the comparison against the Comcast/Universal HP projects. However, having seen more of the project, and more specifically more of the operational aspects of it as it relates to Florida, it may very well turn out to be just what DAK needed.

As mentioned up thread, the ability of this investment to turn DAK into a full day park, and more importantly, an EVENING park is a huge potential home run. By including a night time parade (Rivers of Light), and turning the Tree of Life into some monstrous Avatar tree (Mother Tree or whatever it's called) you can extend the operational aspect of that park well into the "dinner hour" or later. The park routinely closes at 5 pm in the off season, and barely stays open until 8 pm except during busier times. Most certainly the one day ticket holders don't eat dinner on property, and more than likely most multi-day pass holders either park hop out early, or just go back to their hotels. Having something that absolutely is a must see at night (boat parade and alien world that "comes alive at night", along with reimagined show scheduling times ( a later showing of Festival of the Lion King and/or Nemo) and you've truly converted that park to a full 9-9 park. Animals may go to sleep at sundown, but the park may actually come alive. And if that means that people stay there for an evening, instead of beating a hasty retreat to Epcot for the nighttime spectacular, that extends the visit into an additional day.

As for the other argument, let's be realistic. Star Wars wouldn't have fit in DAK. Yes, the Star Wars projects have been longer to develop and implement, but that's primarily because of new found potential of episodes 7-9. They could have jammed in Episode 4 (Cantina, etc), and the fanboys would have had their orgasm. But the company would have left a ton of money on the table. Now, with longer range planning and multi-disciplinary involvement, the end results will be much greater, and can be rolled out across the globe much more readily. (See HK pt 2, Paris, Florida Studios, and possibly the remainder of TDL's Tomorrowland. None of which would impact DAK and the need for something to round out that park.

Do not underestimate the power of a night time draw. While Cars Land would seem to appeal to younger kids, the land is packed EVERY night with adults. The lighting and the immersive environment are a hit, even if the movie (and certainly the sequel) don't resonate with adults at all. It's simply a home run because of the theming. If Avatar succeeds in the same manner, and add to it a successful night parade, then the park extends its operating schedule and by default extends guest stay, that turns into more food, additional room nights, etc. I doubt little kids are going to buy stuffed dolls of loin clothed blue aliens like they do everything with Lightning McQueen. However, never underestimate Disney's ability to create souvenir opportunities (Luigi's tire hats and traffic cone mugs).

We shall see. And come August the Star Wars plans will be announced and then we can spend the next 3 years debating the wisdom of that. :)

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Sunday, March 1, 2015 1:18 PM

Animal Kingdom needs a lot more than just a fake land of aliens or whatever. The animal attractions simply can't operate late. As a practical matter, it only has two sit-down restaurants, potentially two shows that can run late (if cast requirements and unions don't forbid it), two E-ticket rides... that's it. Unless the new stuff includes additions to all of those categories, I don't know that this makes it an evening park. Heck, I'm not sure why it has to be one at all, and it can't just be what it is (unless it's to alleviate pressure from MK in the evenings).

And I've been there an awful lot after dark, so I'm not sure that the characterization that it "routinely closes at 5" is entirely reasonable. It's not busy that late, but still.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015 2:58 PM

Lord Gonchar said:

I think he's right too. This will succeed in spite of the Avatar license, not because of it.

I've said this before, but perhaps it bears repeating. From where I sit, they did not get a license to Avatar (the story). They got a license to Pandora (the environment). The latter provides a LOT of opportunity.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015 4:24 PM

CreditWhOre: Real World Slithernoggin agrees with most everything have there. Not sold on the idea that DAK needs to be a 9-9 park, but otherwise, yeah. A-CEO Slither still believes it's possible to talk sense to T-R. :-)

Brian Noble: Interesting point.

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