26 September 2011

The works of their hands

For those of you expecting your regularly scheduled Gazette Roundtable, it is ready to go! But as it ties in to Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary, it will be running as a special edition on Saturday morning. Be sure to return then for it! For now, let’s talk about a word that has been on the lips of the Disney community for the past week: AVATAR.

As a champion for Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a detractor of James Cameron, I spent much of last Tuesday with a very befuddled look on my face. I was thrilled that my favorite park was going to be receiving some fresh blood, but very, very disappointed to hear it was coming from a property that I, frankly, didn’t have any desire to associate with and couldn’t understand how it would fit properly within the park. J.K. Rowling is beloved by her followers, as is Rod Serling, but James Cameron is a very divisive individual. Many people, including myself, do not appreciate the glossy manner in which his films can be told, and it makes us skeptical of building anything around those stories. However, how much weight in the AVATAR argument do you give to Cameron and how much do you place upon the shoulders of Walt Disney Imagineering?

Like any reporter worth his weight, I decided I needed to set my prejudices aside and see what the potential might be awaiting guests on Pandora.

I picked up a copy of AVATAR and gave it a thorough viewing and, like many have said before me, I found the story lacking, but the visuals stunning. However, there were aspects of film that gave me a glimmer of insight into what makes Pandora a world class destination for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. First and foremost, the struggle of development for Unobtainium versus the harmony the Na’vi have with the land is right in line with other areas of the park. Think Kali River Rapids with alien creatures.Pandora has a lot to offer in the plant and animal area as well, but let’s circle back to that in a moment, I feel that there’s a rather large elephant (or dragon or toruk, if you prefer) in the room. Beastly Kingdom. The land that was supposed to feature mythical creatures as part of the original plan for expansion at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but has yet to see the light of day. I still hold out hope that one day dragons and unicorns will fill in the empty spaces of the park, but for better or worse, the theme park game has turned into a battle of recognizable properties in the past couple of years, and AVATAR is a franchise that has worldwide appeal. As with all things, this may just be passing phase, and the park is still relatively young, which means that there is plenty of time to see these ideas come to fruition down the line.

AVATAR will bring its own mythological beasts and flora with it to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Bioluminescent plants, emitting light from the plants naturally or due to a chemical reaction from interaction with a creature, fill the world of Pandora. Add in some Direhorses, Hammerhead Titanotheres, and Thanators and you have the makings of a remarkable trail reminiscent of Pangani or Maharajah. Couple this with some top-tier attractions, likely an exploration atop a wild creature and perhaps a simulator of some sort, and the park will gain not only in the arena of attendance but also ground in the battle against the half-day argument.

Many of us may not like the idea of Disney’s Animal Kingdom seeking outside properties, but there is an entire world to work through within the confines of Pandora. And let’s not forget that external properties, such as Star Wars, The Twilight Zone, and Indiana Jones, have given the parks some fan favorite attractions. Back on Pandora, gorgeous backdrops with stone arches, Hometree (though it should not dwarf the Tree of Life!), and the Hallelujah Mountains offer quite a bit of ‘wow’ factor. And here is where we get to the crux of the issue, while James Cameron may have created the world of AVATAR, it will be the Imagineers of WDI that bring it to life for guests. Save Tokyo DisneySea, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the most beautiful park in the Disney Parks portfolio, and I don’t expect that standard to be allowed to slide with the introduction of a new land.

In fact, aside from the copious amounts of concept and production art they have to work with, I imagine the designers are pouring through the book AVATAR – An Activist Survival Guide. Like Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this text breaks down every plant, animal, artifact, and cultural exchange present on Pandora. It is a blue print to how to successfully grow an environment where Na’vi and park guests can thrive together in an experience that can further the message of conservation for today and tomorrow.

In the survival guide, Dr. Grace Augustine is quoted as saying, “There are many dangers on Pandora, and one of the subtlest is that you may come to love it too much.” With a blank, though striking, canvas to work with no one knows quite what to expect out of this new land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. And while I may not be thrilled with the idea of cultivating a world designed by James Cameron, I am willing to believe the Imagineers can succeed in crafting a brilliant experience for guests, provided we can keep an open mind as we move forward.


Makin' Memories said...

Thank you for this! I was glad to read an opinion from someone who truly loves the Animal Kingdom as much as I do. I have been very skeptical since the news broke, but I appreciate your view on the possibilities, and am keeping an open mind.

Bartsy said...

My first thought when I heard the news was "No Way!" I still am a little perplexed as to "why?". I too love Animal Kingdom, and am so glad it is getting an expansion. I guess I was still holding out for Beastly Kingdom... Now, I have to give the Immagineers a chance, I mean they are definately the best at what they do (in my opinion at least). Probably the best case scenario I can come up with now, anyway, is to take the plans that they had for Beastly Kingdon, and wrap the Avatar theme around it. I think that would work pretty good. Especially with the supposed Unicorn Headge Maze idea that I've heard about... It could be a really cool walk through attraction, swapping out the "unicorn" theme and having it take place on Pandora. Also, I hope they don't just call it Avatar Land. Sorry but... Lame! I'm sure (hoping) it's just a tentative name that they're refering to it as of now. But how about The Beastly Kingdom of Pandora. I don't know, just a thought. I'm just going to have to put my faith in the Immagineers and hope they spin that Disney Magic into something great... But deep down inside, I'm still wishing it were Beastly Kingdom we would be seeing.

Ben in RI said...

I have to say that I am not as big a fan of AK as I could be. Not that I find it to be a half day park but it just doesn't wow me as much as the other 3 parks do. I also was not a huge fan of Avatar, though I did appreciate it visually I agree the story and acting could have been much better.

With all that being said, I have all the faith in the world that if anyone can make this a reality it is Disney. They have shown time and again that they know what the public wants and how to best present it. So, I for one can't wait to see what they do with this new venture.