Disney announces James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ themed land and rides for Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World

Disney announces James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ themed land and rides for Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World

This morning Disney has announced plans to bring James Cameron’s film franchise “Avatar” to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney world. In a “long-term creative partnership” and exclusive deal, Cameron and his team will act as creative consultants with Walt Disney Imagineering with construction on the new land beginning by 2013 with a projected opening by 2016.

Specifics of the new Animal Kingdom themed land are not yet revealed, though a press conference is being held at Walt Disney Imagineering headquarters in Glendale, Calif. today.

Award-winning director of AVATAR, James Cameron, shares his excitement in working with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts to create AVATAR themed lands at Disney parks beginning with Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, Fla.

Plans are expected to feature more than one ride in a whole new park area. The “Pandora” alien planet themed area for Animal Kingdom will also include more than just rides, offering entertainment, shopping, and dining. Many are already calling it Disney’s answer to Universal Orlando’s highly-immersive Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

UPDATE (9/22/11): The new video below features interviews with Disney president and CEO Bob Iger, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs, and writer/director James Cameron discussing the announcement off “Avatar” coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Groundbreaking filmmaker James Cameron and Bob Iger, CEO, The Walt Disney Company share their collaborative vision for bringing the mysterious universe of AVATAR alive in Disney parks.

“James Cameron is a groundbreaking filmmaker and gifted storyteller who shares our passion for creativity, technological innovation and delivering the best experience possible,” said Robert A. Iger, President and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. “With this agreement, we have the extraordinary opportunity to combine James’ talent and vision with the imagination and expertise of Disney.”

“AVATAR created a world which audiences can discover again and again and now, through this incredible partnership with Disney, we’ll be able to bring Pandora to life like never before. With two new AVATAR films currently in development, we’ll have even more locations, characters and stories to explore,” said James Cameron. “I’m chomping at the bit to start work with Disney’s legendary Imagineers to bring our AVATAR universe to life. Our goal is to go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling, and give park goers the chance to see, hear, and touch the world of AVATAR with an unprecedented sense of reality.”

“AVATAR is a uniquely powerful franchise that has global appeal with audiences of all ages. Its spectacular settings, intriguing characters, imaginative creatures, and strong themes of family and loyalty make it a perfect fit for Disney,” said Thomas O. Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “We can’t wait to give our guests the ability to journey to Pandora and explore the incredible immersive world of AVATAR in person.”

Photo L-R: Tom Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; James Cameron, award-winning director of AVATAR; Bob Iger, CEO, The Walt Disney Company; Jon Landau, co-producer of AVATAR; and Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, Fox Filmed Entertainment chairmen announce an exclusive agreement to create AVATAR themed lands at Disney parks.

Mythical creatures were intended to be part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park since its opening (the “Beastly Kingdom” project), but this is the first announced opportunity for Disney to showcase more than animals on Earth.

The project is said to cost around the same as the Cars Land expansion of Disney California Adventure, around $200 million. “Avatar” is the highest grossing film world wide ever, at $2.7 billion.

UPDATE: As promised earlier on the Disney Parks Blog, Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs has responded to a few fan questions about the addition of “Avatar” to the park. While dancing around the details (of which there are very little to share, as it’s all still early in the design phase), Staggs did address a few important concerns.

“Avatar” is rated PG-13 and features some adult themes and scenes, so is it family-friendly enough for a Disney theme park? Staggs responds:

“At its core, AVATAR is a film that embraces strong, positive themes of family, loyalty, living in harmony with nature and belief in oneself – all values that we share at The Walt Disney Company. You can be sure that these are the same themes that we will explore throughout our AVATAR lands. They will be places where friends and families can spend time together getting lost in a fantasy world, one of the true hallmarks of any Disney theme park experience.”

Why is the “Avatar” land ending up at Animal Kingdom and not Disney’s Hollywood Studios or another park? Staggs explains the fit:

“Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the perfect place for our first AVATAR land because at its core, the park gives guests the opportunity to experience the worlds of animals and nature – real and mythical – in whole new ways. With AVATAR, we’ve found the perfect opportunity to let our guests explore one of the most compelling mythical worlds ever conceived. Animal Kingdom also celebrates adventure, living in harmony with nature and environmental stewardship – themes that are deeply rooted in the story of AVATAR.”

And ultimately, why pull in “Avatar” to Walt Disney World rather than using a Disney creation? Staggs cites “imaginative creatures, fascinating locations and intriguing characters” as the reason.

So just what attractions could be on the way for this new “Avatar”-themed area? Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs will be answering questions on the Disney Parks Blog later today, so stay tuned for more details – but don’t expect specific rides to be announced just yet.

In the meantime, we can offer some speculation about possible entertainment offerings from Pandora.
(Warning: At-Home Imagineering coming up…)

“Avatar” was groundbreaking in terms of its use of realistic 3D, so it’s almost a given there will be a 3D attraction of some sort in the new Animal Kingdom area. But when thinking of action in “Avatar,” the flying “Ikran” creatures immediately come to mind, with the Na’vi (blue alien people) having to make a special connection/bond in order to fly them around the planet.

There certainly are possibilities for a roller coaster to be themed to these beasts, but what if it was an entertainment offering instead? A recent Walt Disney Imagineering patent filed in March 2010 shows the possibility for manned flying creatures, puppeteered by trained performers as they fly through the sky. And the creatures shown in the patent’s artwork sure do look a lot like those seen in “Avatar”…

It’s not hard to imagine guests watching a show featuring one of the Na’vi carefully taming an Ikran and then flying it around the park, around trees and overhead.

While “Avatar” was widely criticized for recycling an old storyline, its rather unique world and creatures open the doors to countless themed experiences for Disney’s theme park. And with two more “Avatar” films on the way, the story should evolve further than the “Pocahontas” tale that the first mirrored. It’s also likely Disney will stay away from the original film’s story, instead utilizing the Pandora world and its now-familiar creatures to create a highly-themed environment into which guests can be transported to experience a whole new story.

But, again, all of this is speculation, as Disney has not yet revealed any of its specific plans for attractions to be featured within the upcoming “Avatar” land. As the details emerge, we’ll continue to update as the project progresses toward its scheduled 2016 opening.

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