Animal Kingdom’s Pandora… “The World of Avatar” by Bill Iadonisi
Right now, Walt Disney is looking down at Animal Kingdom’s new “World of Avatar” with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face and nodding his head in approval, as the world’s greatest storyteller takes in this new land. Since it was announced on September 20th, 2011 that Walt Disney was joining creative forces with James Cameron, the filmmaker who brought us the film Avatar. This groundbreaking film released by 20th Century Fox on December 18th, 2009, concerning the mining operations of Humans on a fictional moon called Pandora in the Alpha Centauri system and the struggles of the indigenous people, called the Na’vi who opposed the Humans, fearing this will destroy their ecosystem.
The film, with its groundbreaking visual effects went on to becoming the highest-grossing film at the time, surpassing the mega-hit Titanic. When it was announced, James Cameron himself stated….” 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”
And as with ANYTHING Disney Imagineers tackle (With some “Magical” help from above from Walt!) this new land melds immersion in storytelling to a new height. The land occupies the former Camp Minnie-Mickey. This area was originally planned for a land called the Beastly Kingdom which was to be based on mythological creatures, i.e. Dragons, Unicorns and the like. But as with many Disney plans, this never saw fruition. Originally, it was thought to bring this land to the Hollywood Studios, but the powers to be decided that Animal Kingdom was a better choice. One of the reasons was issues of conservation and environmental messages, which are Animal Kingdoms’ bastion. The storyline here at Avatar is set after the warring conflict. The new backstory is that the Humans and the Na’vi are at peace, and both sides are presenting Pandora as the new objective for research and ecotourism. The land, which encompasses about 12 acres has to literally seen to be believed! Anyone who has seen the film, will have no doubt in believing that they are on the moon Pandora!
The details of the flora and the Pandoran landscape are spectacular! Now add to the mix, ambient noises of Pandoran animals emanating all around, it makes one feel a bit eerie in a way of just how realistic the Imagineers crafted this “Land”. One of course knows that even Disney has to bend to the laws of nature (Gravity). The floating mountains of the Pandoran Valley of Mo’ara, were inspired by the mountain peaks of Wulingyuan China, part of the Wuling mountain range in China. It is noted for more than 3,000 sandstone pillars. In Avatar, the Imagineers utilized “Forced Perspective” as they do in many other instances, to make the 156-foot-tall mountains appear larger than they are. The “Floating” mountains here at Animal Kingdom are supported by steel beams and foundations which took a year to finished. The beams are surround by rock fascial and flora. Even the bioluminescent flora has control features and motion sensors the will allow them to interact with guests when they come near.
This new World of Avatar consisted of two brand-new attractions…” The Avatar Flight of Passage” ride and “The Na’vi River Journey”. Both of these rides are 10 stars each. The Flight of Passage is an unforgettable ride atop a Mountain Banshee, or “Ikran” in the Pandoran language. The technology employed is similar to Soarin’, but instead of sitting in a seat, you sit atop a small “Motorcycle”, lean forward and the 4K video of the Pandoran Moon and valley appears, and like Soarin’, the bike twists and turns as your Banshee flies amid the landscape, rivers, waters and mountains. You can even feel the Banshee “Breathing” between your legs. The Na’vi River Journey is spectacular in its own rights…Much like the slow, calm boat rides of It’s a Small World, or the Gran Fiesta Boat ride, you drift by stunning bioluminescence flora and fauna. The show topper in this attraction is the Na’vi Shaman of Songs, which is one of the most beautiful and amazing audio-animatronic crafted by Imagineering. Although this may not be considered an attraction, so to speak, Avatar Drum Circle show. Beating Drums, akin to Japan’s Taiko Drums at Epcot’s Japan Pavilion, This Na’vi inspired drum performance seizes the spirit of the indigenous peoples of Pandora amidst a musical performance that guests are inspired to interact with. It’s approximately 15-minutes long and it is filled with dancing, chanting, and copiously amounts of drumming.
In addition to the new attractions, there is the Satu’li (Pronounced Sa-too-lee) Canteen, the only eatery. This quick service restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Your choices are…Chicken, Beef, Fish or Tofu. A drink Kiosk called Pongu Pongu, which means “party party” is the place to quench your thirst. For the souvenir hunters, there is the “Windtraders” where you can purchase science kits, Na’vi items and toys. For the kids, the kiosk “Colors of Mo’ara, there is face-painting and more. In addition to the above mentioned, Pandora is a visual treat for the eyes. Gardens, waterfalls from the “Floating Mountains” cave drawings in the queue lines, all types of colorful “Flora” dot the landscape. And at night, the whole area takes on a magical “Glow” as the bioluminescence plants surrounds you, it is something you will not soon forget.
World of Avatar was slated to officially open this three-day Memorial Weekend, starting Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, with crowds estimated over 60, 000 guests descending on Pandora’s Moon. The press event had a bit of rain. But Disney had a soft-opening on Friday and I got there early, with wait times of under an hour for each attraction. The holiday wait times were at some stretches, 4 hours or more! I can tell you that this land is a welcomed boost for Animal Kingdom, which was sorely needing a new draw. And from the enthusiasm from the guests there Friday, this will be a number one on every Guests’ attendance list.
Joe Rohde, Imagineering creative executive summed it up… “It’s not the movie Avatar that we are portraying,” “It is the planet Pandora where you can come, you can visit, and have your own unique adventure. Rather than reliving the adventures of characters from the film, you’re going to come to the planet where those things happened — and have your own set of adventures you can own.”