Just Say No to Avatar Land

Written by MiceAge. Posted in MiceAge Update


Published on December 10, 2012 at 5:08 am with 82 Comments

Something different today…

A long time ago… In a place far far away (from Florida) an executive retreat was convened.

For those unfamiliar with the term “executive retreat,” let me explain: it’s a way for people who are already somewhat removed from the day to day interaction with their customers to add the element of physical distancing from their workplaces to get even further away from them.

Many of these gatherings are held in premium priced venues, where attendees dine on poultry normally found in joke shops and swill copious quantities of adult beverages as they try to avoid contact with anyone outside of the series of cubicles they normally inhabit.  In order for their employers to pay for these gatherings, a series of tasks are assigned to all attendees. Completion of said tasks allows for more meal opportunities and before they know it they are back in their cubicles again avoiding customers just as before.

For customers of such company, the assigned tasks at these gatherings usually have very little effect upon them. Ideas sketched out on napkins from left field are found to be impractical, business plans from underlings gunning for their jobs end up at the bottom of briefcases, and hopefully a few pillows cushion the fall backwards that was supposed to be cushioned by a coworker who suddenly had trust issues.

Occasionally the instigators of such events change up the schedule a bit and ask everyone involved in the “executive retreat” to come up with a creative idea. For customers of said company this almost always means trouble, as said creative ideas cause billions of dollars in profits to evaporate and Internet gadflies have a field day.

Many regular readers of this column first encountered the trouble these “executive retreats” can cause back when Disneyland in Anaheim announced the results of a “retreat” dedicated to increasing the revenues from its adjacent parking lot. A shopkeeper and a schoolteacher were inexplicably chosen to master plan a major expansion of the Disneyland property with their visions of inexpensively constructed shops and restaurants in an environment designed to look like the state of California (in the very same state).

Rides would be sprinkled into the mix sparingly, wherever possible replaced by films featuring company contract players. “Hip and Edgy” they demanded the park would be, so Mickey Mouse wasn’t going to be allowed on property, and the one live show would feature Finding Nemo fish-head hatted dancers grabbing their crotches.

After almost a decade of empty walkways and a couple of billion dollars later, the schoolteacher and shopkeeper have moved on, the parking lot ended up with a few more cars back in it, a few rides were finally built, and the once still entry turnstiles began to spin with paying customers.

So now I find myself seeing history repeat itself as Disney confirms their deal with Jim Cameron and his Avatar franchise in this interview from the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

To be sure things have changed quite a bit within the Disney Corporation. Eisner’s departure, and Iger’s efforts to this point, along with the direction provided by Lasseter have resulted in an improved second gate for Anaheim. The executive now overseeing the parks, Staggs, for the most part seems to be on the same plate.

With success many times comes contempt though, which can shut out all reason and any constructive criticism. Iger and Staggs from what I understand may be at this stage as the project remains a mystery to anyone outside of the close executive circle they now head in dealing with it.

Tree of Life? Or Glow-necklace ODV cart?

The real problem is not in the execution of their idea, as Disney can replicate the world of Avatar convincingly and would be devoting the proper budget to do so. It’s the simply the very concept itself. Avatar is a movie defined by its technology, where character development takes a backseat. Its protagonists move the plot along in their adventures and yet audiences aren’t moved enough to remember their names. The simplistic story/concept doesn’t offer much to build on for beyond what happens in the movie. (And apparently Cameron is now dealing with that very issue in getting the sequels together.)

The merchandise sales for Avatar were unremarkable, and once it petered out of the stores, it didn’t return. For a company that makes as much as it does from merchandising I find it surprising that this one factor apparently continues to be dismissed. Also let’s not forget the royalties that must be paid to Cameron, something Disney wouldn’t have to deal with the Pixar and Lucasfilm properties since they now own them outright.

The biggest problem may be that this appears to be the only major project on the immediate horizon for a resort that desperately needs to be freshened up with more new attractions and a major investment in infrastructure. Walt Disney World over the next decade will face some formidable competition from neighboring attractions. Queue enhancements, while nice, can’t compete with new rides. The Resort’s bus transportation system is in dire need of an upgrade or reconfiguration throughout the property. Current management must stop bending over to pick up pennies as dollars fly over their heads.

Islands in the sky? Or balloons for sale?

Longtime readers know I don’t hate James Cameron. He’s a terrific filmmaker. I don’t hate Walt Disney World. It truly needs a lot of attention physically and financially right now. I think Tom Staggs and Bob Iger for the most part are on track and making good decisions for the company. John Lasseter’s contributions are to be lauded even with his continued blind spot about Cars 2.

Avatar land is the problem. Believe me, walking away from that concept now will cost a lot less than building it, then trying to fix and then ultimately replace it; which is going to happen.

I noted online a lot of you feel the same way. Don’t let Animal Kingdom become Disney’s Florida Adventure; speak up!

See you at Disneyland!

About MiceAge

The MiceAge crew was started by Al Lutz in 2003, and is committed to bringing you the inside Disney story that you just can't get anywhere else. As much as we'd all like to see more frequent rumor updates on the site, we only publish when reliable news and rumors are available to share. The MiceAge news Editor can be reached at: [email protected]

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  • Disneymike

    Totally agree with you on this one Al. Avatar just does not have the legs to stand the test of time.

    • troyer

      I’m not sure about this concept. Perhaps with sufficient diligence something worthwhile
      could come of it. It’s refreshing though to see Al Lutz back to being his old objective (and critical when merited) self regarding Disney. Thanks Al and keep it up! The beloved Disney genius legacy merits more than narrow and small-minded corporate bean counters molding its future! Lets keep them on notice they’re being watched a la savedisney.com movement of the past. AND that crass disregard of guest experience motivated by greed will not be tolerated.

    • jcruise86

      Avatar’s legs are still under construction, but they might be as weak as those on Matrix 2 & 3. No one knows. But Disney OWNS Star Wars and an “Animals from other Galaxies” (or outside of our solar system) attraction could allow Imagineers to create creatures that might appear in future Star Wars movies over the next century or two.

      A divinely inspired thread. . . http://micechat.com/forums/walt-disney-world-resort/176587-how-thrilled-you-now-about-avatar-coming-wdw.html
      . . .
      currently has 8 options where people can vote for an Avatar attraction, yet as I wrote this, the 9th option, “Not thrilled” about Avatar, has earned 80% of the vote.

      • jcruise86

        Just noticed that my post above was written at 12-12-12–yet another sign from God that it should be obeyed.

  • Trumpet

    Nice Update Al

    I still don’t get Avatar. Disney attractions need to have memorbale characters that make you want to be part of their world (no pun intended). It needs to compete the expansion at USO with the new transformers ride, the mini Springfield and the suspected Harry Potter 2.0 expansion, (which I have dubbed Project London)
    I agree with you that Avatar needs to have a large budget and an emphasis on attractions that
    blow the guests expectations. I think there should also be resturants that reflect the aea and the characters. In my opinion, the characters have no charisma, and as a guest, I don’t want to eat and drink in their home world. Maybe Avatar will grow on me, and only time will tell.

    Thanks Again Al for your opinions of Avatar Land


  • Malin

    This will possibly fire up the Walt Disney World fanboys who get upset every time Al decides to write anything negative towards the Orlando Parks. Personally I don’t have a problem with the Avatar concept and kind of want to see the finish product. But even I can’t ignore the huge negative vibe surrounding the project. Fans just are not showing an interest and its not just a core group of Disney Fans on the forums. It’s everywhere and Disney Management are failing to recognise this land is a mistake. Although should we be saying no to WDW Management. Or should it be Iger and Staggs and other execs that seem to be the ones pushing the project.

    Interesting topic Al, would like to see more of this stuff from you. It keeps the debate going until you can bring us a news update.

    • mkcoastie

      Malin, I think you’ll find that when us WDW fanboys feel like Al is actually on our side (like this arcticle) we tend to agree and feel motivated to do something. This is very refreshing, great article AL!

  • daliseurat

    Yeah, I don’t see this as going well either. It could be awesome, but, the very idea of it is kind of…who cares.

  • Virtual Toad

    Al, your analysis and insight are completely correct. Avatar is a disaster waiting to happen.

    But the problem here isn’t Avatar alone. It’s everything they’ve done at WDW over the last 15 years.

    So much of what made WDW unique or even worthwhile has been shuttered, closed, torn down, left to rot, or just plain bastardized.

    The MK has been whored up with poorly conceived additions to classic attractions and pointless “interactivity.” EPCOT is so stale that it now stands for “Every Pavilion Closed or Trashed.”

    Prices are through the roof, Pleasure Island is gone, and only hyperaddictive planners are able to negotiate the ever-increasing mob scene. Oh yes, plus we have NextGen on the horizon.

    The problem here, sadly, isn’t that Avatar is coming. It’s that Avatarland will be a perfect fit for the over-hyped, under-delivering, increasingly bland and vapid product that is today’s WDW.

    • Longaway

      VT is pretty spot on. Orlando needs someone to actually care about it.

    • wdwprince

      This is exactly right. What is destroying WDW is neglect, ruining classic attractions with nonsense, interactivity everywhere for it’s own sake, exorbitant pricing, having to plan out every minute of every day, a billion dollars spent on Next Gen, crappy entertainment like clowns.

      Although I understand the points made about Avatar, I think it can do well because of what Imagineering can offer it, more than what it can offer to the parks. Imagineering can flesh it out for guests and give it Disney magic. Plus the sequels can offer something exciting that we don’t yet know. My problem is not with Avatar, it’s with all of the other stuff mentioned that is truly ruining the parks experience for me.

      And yes I’m speaking with my money. I have cancelled two of my three trips this year and have not renewed my AP.

      • Kidgenie

        Wow. Well said wdwprince! That is exactly how I feel. Avatar is the least of my concerns, even if its e-ticket turns out to be exactly what I thought…. a 3-D Soaring technology to allow for us to explore Pandora’s Hallelujah Mountain Range. The other issues really are
        * Next Gen lines vs Next Gen Attractions
        * The completely collapse of WDW live Entertainment: Short Parade that fail to wow, a lack luster list of live roaming entertainment, the closer of one of the few remaining good shows, Festival of the Lion King. Mark my words, its not coming back soon and my never come back at all.
        * Wonderful but now truely over priced resorts
        * Not enough dinning options
        * And an overkill emphasis on pre-planning everything. Nex Gen will now force everyone to pre-plan everything from attraction experiences to dinning venues and if you choose not to, you will get a second hand experience.

  • mratigan

    I understand their idea to get Harry potter
    Get the Highest grossing film and make it a land
    But not everyone like the film,but most love Star Wars!!!
    Give DHS a DCA style redue and add a Star Wars mega land

    • indianajack

      I like Star Wars, I don’t love it, but a Star Wars makes so much more sense than an Avatar-land and would make Disney a load of money. How they cannot see this is beyond me? They own the IP now, put it to good use. I’d be excited for an Indiana Jones land in Animal Kingdom too with an archaeology and exotica theme. Disney, use the IP you just bought and forget Avatar.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. Avatar Land fails to inspire. Disney already has a plan for that space in the Animal Kingdom that their customers have been foaming at the mouth to see since the park opened . . . Beastly Kingdom. They should listen to their customers and build the thing people are asking for, and not the thing that EVERYONE is warning them about.

    • pineapplewhipaddict

      If they actually build Beastly Kingdomme, I’d be booking my flight to Orlando ASAP. That dragon in Animal Kingdom’s logo is a lie…but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a crying shame that such amazing theme park concepts have been shelved for so long. That land would be tremendously fair competition for Potter.

      Avatarland makes me want to stay as far away as possible. This is a bad, bad idea. I will say that I don’t think Cameron would allow for a cheapened realization of his film into a physical environment, but then again, contracts could become tricky and pull away his creative rights in this endeavor. And even if Disney spared no expense, the land would still be based off of a film that was a hit at the box office for mere spectacle without substance. I don’t remember any of those characters’ names (in fact, I don’t think I remembered them an hour after leaving the movie theater) and so much of the plot felt forced upon the audience for an emotional response because, surprise surprise, no one cared about any of the characters. Was Pandora pretty? Obviously. Sadly, the was really the only draw for the masses to come see this film. You cannot build attractions, create merchandising etc. purely based on aesthetics.

  • bhb007

    Perhaps the best analysis of corporate retreats (of which I’ve been to many) I’ve ever read. The “Bay of Pigs” groupthink that these things foster is terrifying.

    I suspect, thinking about the long game, Universal will find itself with some really expensive and dated properties over the next decade or so (Transformers, Jurassic Park, The Simpsons, and even Harry Potter come to mind). Attractions like E.T. and The Mummy were once both topical and bleeding edge. Now? Not so much… in the not terribly distant future, their parks risk becoming graveyards to forgotten franchises.

    Disney can avoid this and should. Broadly themed areas that excite the imagination (and allow space for occasional inclusion of licensed properties) are always a safer bet than “throw the kitchen sink at what seems hot at the moment.”

    Great work, Al.

    • jcruise86

      Good post, except that I think HP will become dated the way Snow White, Peter Pan and Dumbo have become dated. If fact, the quality of the books might make HP even more popular in 25-50 years.

  • indianajack

    I agree with Al 100%. Disney needs to cut its losses and stop this Avatar project immediately. The best argument to make to Disney to get them to see the light is the financial one. Disney already has so much other IP they could use and develop, and then not have to pay Cameron the IP licensing fees. Avatar does not and will not move merchandise. The sequels will most likely not measure up financially to the original, which had the new digital 3D angle to entice audiences to buy tickets multiple times. Please Disney, come see the light, Avatar-land is not the panacea that WDW needs and will make Disney much money.

  • Anonymouse

    here’s the thing about Avatar. Even some of the biggest fans can’t name ten characters from it.

    Avatar isn’t like Star Wars or Marvel or anything in the Pixar catalog because the characters all look alike and have very little depth. This isn’t like when you take a picture with Buzz and now you want to find Woody because the Avatar characters just blend into each other. And that’s not scifi racism, that’s bland character development. So even if you’re absolutely dying to take a picture with one of the blue aliens, are you really dying to take a picture with a second one?

    Avatar may be the highest grossing movie ever but it’s also a film that people look back on as more of a tech demo than an amazing story. So the excitement for the sequels simply aren’t there (and the incredibly long delays don’t help).

    Disney has to be aware that interest has faded and with so many quality franchises under their belt then they need to figure out how to start fresh because Animal Kingdom needs help and Avatar is not a solid long term solution.

  • eicarr

    As long as its going to WDW I think its fine. WDW need its own unique things to make me want to visit every 10-20 years. I’m not that big on the animal concept, so using sci-fi to tell the park’s preachy message about nature is a big step up, and gives me a reason to go besides the safari.

    If they want to put AVATAR themed area at DL where the autopia/sub is that’s another story. But if they squeeze A RIDE in DL tomorrowland, next to a new Star Wars themed section, that would be ok. Avatar aliens with Star Wars aliens would make the land more about alien worlds than a world badly predicting the near future with a cheesy Disney lens. Aside from buzz, star tours and space mountain, there is a LOT of free space to be demolished and filled.

  • SamBuddy

    Well, cameron is going to make more avatar movies, and fans are going to have dollars to spend.

  • Eric Davis

    I think that Avatar Land would do wonders to draw INTERNATIONAL visitors to Orlando. And for that reason alone, I support the project.

  • While I don’t completely agree with you on the subject of Avatar Land (Does the movie’s story really matter in a theme park setting? Great attractions can be made despite poor story, and bad attractions can be made despite great source story. Isn’t the visual world of the film much more important? That said, your points on merchandise, theme, and shelf life ring more true.), I like that you’ve dedicated a whole column to Walt Disney World.

    A lot of Walt Disney World fans think you have an axe to grind with WDW. As someone who visits both coasts and sees the differences between them, I don’t think that’s true at all.

    I just hope you will devote more attention to WDW and its problems going forward–articles like this, rather than passing mentions in unrelated articles. You’re one of the few people who have the clout to turn heads on Disney theme park issues.

    • Kidgenie


      I too and Bi-coastal… I will be at Disneyland again tomorrow:) And I second this! I have flamed Al before but here I have no flame. This is what I meant when I said WDW’s fan base needs your help and please aim your criticism at TDO not WDW guest.

      Your article was sarcastic beyond reason, but humorous to read because its so close to the truth and directed at the real issue, TDO. I thank you for it. Please more of this kind of attention.

      • mkcoastie

        “I have flamed Al before but here I have no flame. This is what I meant when I said WDW’s fan base needs your help and please aim your criticism at TDO not WDW guest.”

        100% agree! more like this Al!

  • aquaboi77

    Al, I couldn’t DISAGREE with you more. The movie, while a technical wonder, also had a lot of heart. Say what you want about the characters and plot, but the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of examples of special effects laden movies that do not do well. This movie would have been as popular if there wasn’t much more to it than mere special effects. You may not have cared for Avatar, but the world at large did, and the theme of the movie (living in harmony with nature) is perfect for Animal Kingdom. There are plenty of people who would flock to see this land come alive. And with more movies down the pike, there is plenty of promotional opportunities to make it profitable. I think your low opinion of the movie does bear out on the potency of this franchise.

    • aquaboi77

      I meant to say “wouldn’t have been as popular”

    • Anonymouse

      “This movie would have been as popular if there wasn’t much more to it than mere special effects. You may not have cared for Avatar, but the world at large did,”

      Yes, at the time the world at large cared about Avatar. But how about today?

      I do recognize all the quality attractions and theming that can be taken from Avatar but I do question how much people actually care anymore. There are so many movies and franchises that are exciting at the time but quickly get forgotten and I believe Avatar to be one of those. I remember seeing an article about how the movie did great but the merchandising didn’t which is an indication of how invested people will be long term.

      I guess time will tell and when the sequels come out years and years from now but IF it turns out to be a disappointment then it will be too late for Disney. And with so many quality franchises under their belt then thats not a gamble they should take.

      • aquaboi77

        Although there were lots of gadgets and machines in the movie, what was so great about Avatar were the lush landscapes, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to merchandising. Besides, it would be crass for a movie that is preaching conservation to peddle a bunch of plastic crap that is landfill bound. And as a big Disney fan, I have always been disgusted by the sheer amount of cheap, disposal merchandise foisted on park guests. I don’t go to the parks for merchandise, most people don’t. The main concern of the average park guest: rides. Avatar can easily deliver on that level.

    • Golden

      I’m perfectly happy for Avatar land to come to WDW, for one key reason. Whatever else Avatar may not have been, the one thing it was, was absolutely stunningly gorgeous.

      I’m disappointed if something like ‘poor merchandise sales’ is put forward as a good reason for Disney to not proceed. It will be like a breath of fresh air to me if merchandise sales are not everything.

      Al is a wonder at calling many things well in Disney-terms. On this one, though, I’m sorry Al but I think you are off base in judging it before we see it.

      I don’t care at all for Cars – but Cars land works for two reasons. One is that it looks fantastic (something Avatar land can do). And two is that it has a genuine E-Ticket which is worth multiple rides (something Avatar land also ought to be able to do). Whether or not Avatar land succeeds is not in the concept, it’s in the execution.