Ever since the Disney Parks and Resorts announced in 2011 that they are working on a themed land dedicated to the James Cameron film, Avatar, to debut in their Florida theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, fans everywhere have been scratching their heads in confusion. It was difficult to see how this non-conventional, non-Disney film would be able to fit within a Disney theme park, let alone one that exists based on the theme of world conservation and the environment. But when Pandora: The World of Avatar finally did open to the public this summer, it was clear that Disney fans were in for something unique and truly incredible, unlike anything Disney has ever delivered before.
While Avatar’s presence is still quite baffling, it’s a seamless blend into the park that works on many levels, and what’s most unique about it, is that it’s Disney showing their ability to take on ambitious projects–and deliver–with spectacular results. This summer, yours truly got to go to the parks and finally experience the land, and it feels comforting to say that ‘Avatar Land’ is one of the most beautiful, painstakingly detailed areas throughout the Disney parks. They somehow managed to capture the look and feel of the Avatar film (hey, remember Avatar?) and the attractions are unlike anything ever experienced.
First off, there’s Flight of Passage, which sets a new standard for motion simulator experiences. The attraction puts riders in situations like never before, placing them on an odd motorcycle-like vehicle, but once the attraction begins, are instantly transported, thanks to the Avatar-program, to a live banshee flying through the floating mountains of Mor’aa in stunning 3D. It’s so incredibly unique, and right down to the last detail in which you can feel the breathing of the Banshee that you are currently sitting on, Flight of Passage is a unique and breathtaking thrill that truly pushes the boundaries of technology. Same goes for Na’vi River Journey which blends the traditional boat dark-ride with stunning visuals and projections, to create a memorable and jaw-dropping experience. Not to mention one of the most complex Audio-Animatronics that Disney Imagineering has ever created.
Avatar is a truly incredible film visually, and creating that in a four-dimensional experience where guests can walk through the immersive land, experience the sights and sounds of the film’s other-worldly environment might feel like was a nightmare of a challenge in of itself, but it’s one so seamlessly crafted, and at no time does it feel out of place from the theme of Animal Kingdom. At night, Pandora transforms into a beautiful spectacle of light, illuminated largely by the plants surrounding it.
The idea about putting Avatar in Animal Kingdom is an idea that bothered me for nearly six years. It baffled me, and concerned me that Disney is losing touch with the vision of their theme park, or even worse, become careless about theme. While I still don’t agree with the idea of it, the land showed that even though the company has become self-reliant on big intellectual properties, Disney Imagineering is still at the top of their game in delivering incredible realistic experiences through great visual storytelling. Disney’s ability in theme remains unparalleled, and luckily, even despite the unconventional, and the oddly confusing addition of Avatar, Disney is as dedicated to telling great stories and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. The addition of Pandora shows that even though Disney will continue to push large properties into otherwise original areas, the company won’t sabotage the importance of theme and the dedication to innovation that the parks were founded on.
The future of Walt Disney World seems like a mixed bag, with a Toy Story Land that doesn’t look all too impressive, or a Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Epcot, a park founded to celebrate human innovation and culture (still an odd fit), but if there’s anything Pandora shows us, it’s that despite these really unusual and baffling additions, they’ll still find new ways to showcase their ambition in new ways and create incredible experiences that are unlike anything ever experienced in a Disney theme park.