Avatar land explained, Imagineer and film producer stress connection to Animal Kingdom values in Walt Disney World event

in Disney, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Entertainment, Movies, Special Events, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World


It’s been more than two years since Walt Disney World first announced a partnership with director James Cameron and his filmmaking team to bring the worlds of “Avatar” to life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Since then, many onlookers have scratched their heads wondering why this particular movie is becoming a major expansion of the 15-year-old theme park.

Now finally under construction, the reasons and inspiration behind bringing the land of Pandora to Walt Disney World were explained yesterday during a presentation to cast members by Imagineer Joe Rohde and movie producer Jon Landau in conjunction with a screening of the film.

It’s not the first time a James Cameron film has reached a theme park. Terminator 2: 3D has been a staple attraction in Universal Studios parks for many years. But this “Avatar”-inspired land is different, meant as something much more than a flashy 3D movie.

“Just the same way that we wanted to use technology to break new ground and tell new stories with the movies, that’s what Joe and his team are creating here, not just in Pandora but throughout the park.” said Landau. “And I look forward to pressing things, pushing technologies and really giving guests an unprecedented themed experience.”

Rohde calls the partnership a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” strongly emphasizing that the values that already exist behind everything experienced in Disney’s Animal Kingdom exactly match those that drive the story of “Avatar.” “This is an extraordinary opportunity coming at us very quickly, for us to take the core ideas of this park and express them to the country and the world in an illustration through ‘Avatar’ that is so incredibly vivid that it will bring added value to the entire place.”

Joe Rohde was the lead designer of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and though on the surface the park appears to be a bunch of rundown-looking buildings surrounded by winding paths a whole lot of trees, there’s a much deeper story to be found within it.

“Any good story is about something,” explained Rohde. “Something is underneath the plot. Something is underneath the character. Underneath the setting. And that inner value, that inner idea that a story is about – that’s where the strength of that story comes from.” According to Rohde, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has three core values that act as the themes uniting all of its attractions, shows, and details.

There’s the value of nature, which Rohde explains as being “more powerful and more valuable value than anything else you see around.” The park offers a transformation through adventure, in which park guests can experience something they’ve never seen before and grow from that experience. Lastly, there’s a personal call to action that regularly makes guests the center of attention.

As Rohde sees it, “Avatar” shares these same three elements with the park. “The underlying value of this film fits squarely on top of the values of Animal Kingdom and it’s not just kind of a nice fit, it’s actually an extraordinarily smooth and very clear and vivid expression of the underlying value systems of the park.”

The decision to build Avatar land inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom was not up to James Cameron nor Jon Landau. It was Disney’s idea. “For Jim and I, it has been a collaboration,” recalled Landau. “We didn’t know what it was going to be like and they have really opened up their doors, their resources, and let us share our ideas. […] They made a conscious decision to put us here at Animal Kingdom and I am so thrilled by that.”

Though the details of what exactly is being built in the “Avatar”-inspired area are still rather sketchy, Landau did share a summary of the overall scope of what’s to come.

“If you really think about it, to me, ‘Avatar’ is not coming here. Pandora is coming here,” said Landau. “We are going to give people an opportunity to go to Pandora. And that’s what we found when people came out of the movie, that’s what they wanted to do. They wanted to go back to Pandora. They wanted to experience it again.”

Landau did specifically mention a few of the sights that guests will see when the land makes its debut.

“We’re going to be able to do that through our banshee flying ride. We’re going to be able to do that by taking people deeper into the rainforest and see the bioluminescence, day or night. We’re going to be able to do that because the land itself is truly an attraction. It’s going to be interactive. It’s going to give people the opportunity to feel like they are truly in another world.”

Recently released artwork mirrors Landau’s descriptions, showing the transformation from the park’s once sleepy area known as Camp Minnie-Mickey into the glowing land of Pandora.

Finally, after several years of lofty talk, construction on Avatar land is now underway. A groundbreaking ceremony was held recently, which included Rohde, Landau, and other top Disney executives.

This is the moment Rohde gets most excited about. “For me, the groundbreaking moment – you know, I like to build things,” explained Rohde. “It’s all fine to talk we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that, blue sky and pictures and meetings – I want to build stuff. That’s what I’m here to do.”

Now the daunting task lies ahead for Disney’s Imagineers to actually follow through on their plans and create an area that will live up to everyone’s expectations. Rohde says the whole construction project is “really intimidating because it’s really technically mind bogglingly hard to do – but very exciting.”

Avatar land is scheduled to open at Walt Disney World in 2017.

You can watch the presentation given by Joe Rohde and Jon Landau in the video below, courtesy of Big Fat Panda:


  1. Movie was political. Love Disney World, not interested in this expansion.

    1. tim

      spot on correct

      1. Xtian

        I’m no huge fan of the Avatar project, but get off the “it’s political” stuff. It’s a tried and true movie trope. It’s hardly original. Native peoples have a resource someone else wants, and another source wants to come in and pillage it. If you actually paid attention to the movie, it was NOT a government force, it was a private company employing mercenaries.

    2. Mal

      Sounds like you don’t love Disney World that much. Regardless of the source material, this land looks like it’s going to bring something great to the table in the world of theme parks. Harry Potter seems to have lit a fire under Disney, and I’m excited to see what they bring to the table, regardless of property.

      I’m not really a fan of Cars, but Cars Land was incredible.

      1. Tryg

        Lighting a fire is not finally opening a new land 7 years after the first Harry Potter, and 3 years after an even bigger Harry Potter expansion.

        1. Mal

          Lighting a fire in regards to the final product. I question whether we’d seen things like Avatar or Cars Land without Universal creating the first round of Harry Potter.

          The speed on Disney’s side is definitely lacking though. It’s nuts that the Diagon Alley and Avatar projects were announced at the same time, and we’re still 3+ years out from Avatar.

    3. Marlowe

      But you will still go. and everyone else not “interested”.

  2. tim

    hhmmmmmm…..I love (and will pretty much always love) Disney, but I don’t care what the imagineers do or say or try and shove James Cameron’s ideas and products down my throat…it will NEVER happen!! send the blue people up the street to Universal (why not, Disney now owns that and its more appropriate than Animal Kingdom…I honestly think) shoot….. its even more fitting going to Sea World (and I understand Disney is looking into buying THAT place as well) btw (maybe its just me) but I think its going to really suck to be standing in the middle of a 1980’s era Chicago movie set watching The Blues Brothers Show and taking pictures with Mickey and Minnie Mouse…. no magic or pixie dust there AND vice versa, I really see no “when you wish upon a star” watching Captain America standing in front of Space Mountain signing autographs (I dunno, maybe its just me) bottomline,imo, leave the franchises separate and just expand appropriately(ie….seven dwarfs mine train, little mermaid, dumbo….. and shoulda been CARSLAND…or even STAR WARS LAND, being as Disney just bought George Lucas)but here again, after 308 times going to Disney World, it might be that I just need a break from the mouse AND all his enterprise

    1. Teddy Leo

      I may Have read this wrong but Disney doesn’t own Universal.. and does not want to buy sea world. if you have really been to disney 308 times you would know these things

      1. tim

        good night Teddy Leo ……have a great evening

        1. Bruce Wayne

          This guy has no touch with Reality.

          1. Xtian

            I’m guessing learning disability or troll. I try not to believe that people who are so obsessed with their fandom are that stupid.

    2. EricJ

      I think a break IS what you need–
      Either a nice long rest, or a time-out, either one would help.

  3. Xtian

    Good god “tim” if you think Disney owns Universal, then maybe you should just refrain from commenting on anything. The stupidity of people astounds me.

    As for Mr. Rohde, if he actually likes building things, maybe he should send his resume to Universal Creative.

    1. Teddy Leo

      I may Have read this wrong but Disney doesn’t own Universal.. and does not want to buy sea world.

      1. Teddy Leo

        replied to the wrong person sorry about that. But send his resume to Universal Creative please get out of here

      2. tim

        well lets see…… I would have to go back and flip through my reports from NBC and such ….but I’m sure its common knowledge that Disney has long bought the Marvel rights.. but if you check several Disney websites and sources, the Disney company is in the first stages of bidding for SeaWorld as well as Busch Gardens in Florida.. we employees and stockholders here in Virginia that worked for the Anheuser-Busch company (which owned SeaWorld AND Busch Gardens and sold off)….. the Belgian company that bought this empire wants to now unload the theme parks and just focus on the brewing….just check around, I think you’ll find out that I don’t jest….have a good one !!!

        1. Xtian

          Comcast owns NBCUniversal as well as the theme parks.

          Disney owns Marvel.

          NBCUniversal owns all Marvel theme park rights east of the Mississippi and in Japan.

          And you make no sense.

          These are all facts. Go away uninformed troll.

          1. Xtian

            Furthermore, Sea World and Busch Gardens were spun off into their own company on NYSE with a controlling interest by the British company Blackstone. What year are you living in?

            How old are you exactly?

    2. tim

      well lets see…… I would have to go back and flip through my reports from NBC and such ….but I’m sure its common knowledge that Disney has long bought the Marvel rights.. but if you check several Disney websites and sources, the Disney company is in the first stages of bidding for SeaWorld as well as Busch Gardens in Florida.. we employees and stockholders here in Virginia that worked for the Anheuser-Busch company (which owned SeaWorld AND Busch Gardens and sold….. the Belgian company wants to now unload them and just focus on the brewing….just around, I think you’ll find out that I don’t jest….have a good one !!!

      1. stewart

        Owning Marvel and owning Universal are two very different things. Comcast owns Universal and NBC. Also, why would Disney be interested in buying a park in the middle of a huge controversy that is begging for the park to change its business model at the foundation? I would ask where such madness stemmed from but seeing as you are employed by Anheuser-Bush I assume you are enjoying your company’s product a bit too much…

  4. William

    I think everybody should give it a chance before trashing the idea because like they keep saying there not making a land based on the movie but of pandora… I origanlly didn’t like the idea but I think this is gonna give animal kingdom a great night life experence that everybody has been waiting for and the more I get to hear about it from the imageneers the more I get excited for it… And honestly anything can be better than camp Minnie Mickey I mean really people… And also I’m tired of people saying can we have Star Wars instead because honestly people Star Wars is for Hollywood studios not the animal kingdom

    1. tim

      I agree that Stars Wars Land should be in Hollywood Studios…..in fact I was under the impression that Star Wars Land was coming to Hollywood Studios and that this past Christmas season was the last year for the Osborne Family of Lights so as to make room for the project, but I think that pretty much all park projects were axed when they decided to go through with that Downtown Disney “Springs” project….and you ARE RIGHT sir, ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN CAMP MINNIE MICKEY…..hahahaha

      1. William

        Hahaha and if Star Wars land does get build at Hollywood studios I don’t think they will put it where streets of America is because of the Osborne lights popularity and also because this part of the park is a classic and a favorite to most fans of the original park (before the sorcerer hat days) but I do think that lights motor action extreme stunt show and maybe the backlot tour will be in trouble when some type of Star Wars thing is build in Hollywood studios (if it is even build in Hollywood studios) and also I don’t think Hollywood studios has any room for any new land with out the closure of some rides so that will be interesting when this finally happens but for now let’s all just look forward to avatar land or pandora (or what ever other name they decide to name it)

  5. EricJ

    So, how much MORE defensive about this are they going to get? 😉

  6. Jamie C

    I’m looking forward to this animal kingdom is a beautiful park, I have not seen avatar and even though I have it on blue ray have no desire to watch it, but it did perform incredible at the box office on its original release and has a whole string of sequels and prequels ( not sure if latter is true.) in the works. when Rhode says the area will live up to what animal kingdom is about now sort of says they are aiming to surpass what they have achieved already. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will pan(dora) out.

    PS Ricky feel free to use that pun.

  7. Jake

    Disney Imagineers are assuring fans the new land will “be full of blue aliens having hair-tentacle sex” and “celebrate military violence” and “let visitors experience genocide” and all the other family-theme-park friendly ideas behind this rented intellectual property. Imagineers claim they’re trying to “work out some shit to sell” in the new land. They asked the assembled media, “Did the blue aliens use wands or anything? ‘Cause we could totally build a wand shop.” They also asked “Did the blue aliens drink buttery sodas? ‘Cause we could sell buttery sodas too.” Imagineers have assured the media that newly developed odorant technology will ensure that the swampy new land will “smell like desperation.”

    1. EricJ

      So, you’re still using the Harry Potter comparison?–
      Even from the beginning, I was using the Goosebumps and American Idol comparisons: “Er, heheh, we sort of envisioned it being popular a little….LONGER than it did?” 😉

      1. Tiny Imagineer

        Great attractions can outlive the properties that spawn them – anybody have a DVD of “Third Man On The Mountain” I can borrow? – but I agree with the point that Avatarland is a pretty clear response to the ass-kicking Uni Creative is giving to Imagineering right now. If you were a talented creative in the theme park industry where would you want to work right now? Building kiddie coasters and meet-n-greets or immersive lands with cutting-edge rides? Avatarland puts Imagineering back in the game with the latter.

        Of course, right now my kids want to go where Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss, and Spider Man are, not so much Mickey Mouse, and Avatar probably won’t change that.

        1. William

          Going with where your kids want to go right now I believe that most kids will want to go to disney if they heard about a marvel land and a Star Wars land… But I think avatarland and or pandora will give the animal kingdom more for me and other that have been there many times to do other than Everest dinosaur and the safari


    awesome! Avatar in Animal Kingdom is awesome and I can’t wait 2017!

  9. theultimatedisneygeek

    I agree with Tim all the way. Sorry but Disney and Avatar just don’t go together.

    1. Dave

      Why not? did you see how they re making it fit in DAK?

      1. EricJ

        ….”MAKING it fit”? 😉

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  11. Jake

    Everyone here that is bashing the project, please read a little more carefully. I am yet to hear a single person say anything negative about “Pandora”, rather everyone is against “Avatar”. If you read the article, there is this lovely quote, “If you really think about it, to me, ‘Avatar’ is not coming here. Pandora is coming here.”

    Sure there may be meet-and-greets with a few Navi, but even the rides are themed to the wildlife that were in Pandora, not the Navi or necessarily the story of Avatar. Also, if you don’t like it, don’t go. It’s located where Camp Minnie Mickey was, which is a pretty secluded area that easily avoidable.

    Finally, the rest of the park is getting a much deserved facelift along with the new land, so that’s just another bonus!

    1. William

      Thank you!—This is completely true and I agree with you 100% and even though I don’t think this will be the best land disney will make but it’s still going to be good and I’m looking forward too it!

    2. EricJ

      Okay, I’ll say something positive about Pandora:
      “Oh, look, a glowing, verdant world, that’s transported me away to the heart of an alien landscape, here in the heart of Florida, that emphasizes man’s connection with his natural world, and endlessly reminds me of scenes from a corny crap movie every time I look at it!” 😉

  12. Jeff

    I personally don’t care for Avatar, Pandora, whatever they want to call it. However a new land is always welcome. My beef is, it seems like the strength, draw of the land will be its use of light, lumanescance, which it would seem is best seen at night. Since when is AK open past 6 or 8pm other than events or holidays when there are heavy crowds. Most of the year the park closes before sundown therefore wasting a big part of the design of this land.

    1. Jeff Lynch

      Uh, that’s the whole point of this. The Pandora area will allow the park to stay open longer. It will have a nightime show too. Lots of exciting things are coming.

  13. Caitlyn

    I’m probably just going to repeat what other arguments are going on but I think that the Avatar expansion is a waste of time and money. I do like the movie and all but I honestly don’t think it should be made into a whole section of a very successful theme park. I think Disney could have done better. But of couse that is just my opinion as a Disney fanatic.

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