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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  • MSVRider

    While I am going to hold judgement until I see the new Avatar Land, I admit that I have wondered why they chose Avatar out of all the other animal themed properties that they have.

    Although, I disagree that Animal Kingdom needs more attractions. It’s actually one of my favorite parks because it DOES focus on the animals. I’d rather walk through Majarajah Jungle Trek than ride Expedition Everest (and I love Expedition Everest). It’s such a beautiful park that is, for the most part (don’t get me started on Dino Land), is unspoiled by buildings are rides. I realize that I probably don’t represent most of the tourists that visit the park every year, but I’d be sad if the focus on the park shifted from the animals to attractions.

  • Baloo

    from what i have heard of the Avatar project i think people will be surprised at the outcome. I just don’t agree with the analyze of this column. An Analyzes that is being done out of pure speculation not knowing exactly what is being planned.

    If the project continues great if it doesn’t and something else better comes along than fine as well but to criticize something that most know little about is ridiculous.

  • DonKarnage

    I say be super ballsy and open a fifth gate that incorporates areas for Avatar, Lucasfilms, and Marvel. Also secure some rights for some Anime titles and something Middle-earthy. IOA rip-off? Sure… but who cares. At least no single brand would have to stand on its own. Whatever doesn’t hold up over time can be crowded out bywhat does. Leave expansion at DHS to Pixar and the Mupets.

  • Baloo

    The price tag on this land alone should show that WDI is being allowed to make this land as detailed and incredible as possible.

  • QuiGonJ

    Al, I agree with you completely. The money that will be spent vs. the length of time since the movie came out.. I don’t see it being the Hogwart’s killer they were thinking of. But the corporate though is “Well, we have to try something…” and so it will probably continue.

  • chesirecat

    Avatar was forgettable in terms of characters, and the big draw was the CGI, which, admittedly, was done very well. The problem is that it is very hard to translate such a fantastical CGI world in a theme park land. Animal Kingdom already looks somewhat like Pandora, with trees and plants everywhere. They could put up the stone arches, add some nice night time lighting, but WDI runs the risk of not being able to make Avatarland stand-out from the rest of Animal Kingdom in a special way.

    They can contort plants to look a little like the stuff on Pandora, but it won’t come close to the glowing plants that move. They could go artificial, but this runs the risk of looking worn in a year. Avatar was basically the macho military vs. the blue people, that was the big draw, the action sequences. Will there be a “military” presence in this land? Doesn’t look good next to the tranquil look of AK.

    Of course, all of this may be academic. It is an open secret that WDI is having problems meeting Cameron’s expectations, and much of the ‘magic’ of Pandora will be projected onto Soarin’ sized screens. (I doubt that we’re looking at $400 for the first phase of Avatarland, more like $200 for Soarin over Pandora, and a gift shop and restaurant. Then if, (a big if), if this does get built, then they might add on more later should Avatar 2 be a hit.

    Interestingly, Star Wars 7 and Avatar 2 are both looking at an opening date in 2015 . . . With Star Wars, Disney doesn’t need Avatar anymore, and a Star Wars land would bring in pure profit for the company, versus Avatarland which wouldn’t be pure profit.

    I can’t say what Iger is thinking, but if he bought Star Wars years ago, I doubt the deal with Cameron would have materialized, and it may well be cancelled.

  • chesirecat

    Oh, and Avatar featured a smoking Sigourney Weaver . . . In the 21st Century, family groups sort of look down on smoking in films, especially a film which will be enshrined in a Disney park . . . a family theme park. Should Avatarland get built, I foresee a lot of upset parent groups. When it comes down to it, Avatar isn’t a Disney property, yet Star Wars obviously is.

    • Jungle Trekkie

      Are you seriously suggesting that parent groups are going to object to Avatar-land because a character was smoking, or are you being ironic?

      In the Star Wars movies people get hands, arms, and heads cut off with light sabers. Anakin gets graphically turned into a piece of burned toast. I would think that parent groups would be more upset about those things, but I have never heard of any protests about “Star Tours” or the other Star Wars related things at the parks.

  • Internitty

    James Cameron makes some really great films, always visually spectacular ALWAYS way over budget and late. I like The Terminator, The Abyss, even Titanic. I thought Aliens took the suspense that was the original Alien film and threw it out the window wrapped in a message that American audiences can’t deal with suspensful horror they only like action / special effect flicks (and don’t get me started on Ridley Scott selling out to that ethos with Prometheus). I saw Avatar twice at the cinema and bought the DVD when it was released however so far I have only gotten around to watching the first disc.

    I am a teacher of film studies and a pop culture junkie, unfortunately I cannot see enough redeeming factors in Avatar to warrant a land within Disney theme parks, I cannot see mercahdise that people would want to buy, if they didn’t buy it frst time around why would they now? Avatar a one off film with some possible sequels in the future cannot compete with Harry Potter with 7 books and 8 films and 9 video games, a massive following that continues to grow and will for many years to come, basically the Star Wars of this generation. Avatar at best will have one successful sequel, proof of that comes from observing other Cameron sequels, the average Terminator 3, the abysmal Terminator Salvation, even though it’s not his really the sequels to Aliens picked up on Cameron’s look and feel, Alien 3, actually I liked Alien Resurrection but coming from Jean-Pierre Jeunet the director of Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children and Amelie how can you go wrong? I liken Avatar to The Matrix an enjoyable first film which doesn’t stand up to multiple viewings and by the third film was well and truly done. Star Wars is the logical sci fi universe to exploit, they have already created a very successful ride and WDW enjoys success with Star Wars days, the universe is diverse and continues to grow, it has already stood the test of time and survived 3 bad prequels which did not affect it’s popularity.

    If Disney want to look outside their own stable I would think Studio Ghibli would be the logical feeding ground, the sumptuous worlds of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service are ideal theme park fodder and since Disney produces many of the English dubs for these films, hold US and share international distribution rights I think they would be a perfect fit and would be a land that could be added to and will stand the test of time.

    Avatar was a fun movie, amazing 3D but someone really needs to take a better look at it’s potential before wasting a fortune on an ill conceived venture…

  • FigmentJedi

    If you had to put an outside franchise into Animal Kingdom, I’d have picked Pokemon. Proven lasting appeal and with the Legendaries, you could apply those characters to the Beastly Kingdom model.

    Or you know, just do something original. Hell, why not have James Cameron consult on a version of Living Seas without Nemo? He loves the sort of sea exploration stuff the pavilion used to focus on.

  • Algernon

    In March the Oclulus Rift virtual reality headset will hit the market. People will be able to “walk” into video games with total 3D immersion (the images will not even have a border). Virtual worlds will be created, including past (and much better) versions of Disneyland people can “go” to, instead of the current one. Will theme parks even exist after that, when everybody can have a better experience in their own living room? One day Sleeping Beauty’s Castle will be at the Smithsonian, for those few people who actually go to the real one, and not the virtual one. A new age will soon be upon us. We may be arguing about nothing.

  • scarymouse

    Completely agree with Al, Disney should run from Avatar. I doubt if very many people would flock to see this land, its just not going to happen.Put the money back into a rehab of what makes Dworld tick.And some new attractions like the 7 dwarfs ride..more of these in existing lands would be more cost effective,than taking a chance on a outdated movie that no one wants to see , Cameron must want to make a sequel, what a better way to get another Avatar movie made get Disney behind it, obviously Universal turned him down.

  • Lisakd

    NO Avatar Land!!! Please!! It does NOT fit in with Animal Kingdom…or anywhere in WDW in my opinion.

  • PinokeFan

    I completely agree with Al.

    Yes, they may be able to make a visually impressive land (see Cars Land). Whether they will then be able to fill it with great rides & attractions is another question (see Cars Land).

    But the real head-scratcher, as Al mentions, is the MERCHANDISING. Even before they were bought, Pixar & Lucasfilm provided ample opportunities for merchandising. But Avatar? Sticking Mickey in a Jedi robe or Indy hat is one thing. I just don’t see a Na’vi Mickey happening.

  • jerhow

    Completely wholeheartedly and passionately DISAGREE with Al on this.

    At its core, AVATAR is a film that stresses the importance of appreciating and taking care of the natural resources of our planet, which is a perfect thematic fit with ANIMAL KINGDOM and is a strong and noble message that compliments the Disney brand.

    To suggest that Disney needs to focus its creative expansion decisions around merchandising is just misguided logic. I actually find it incredibly refreshing that Disney’s priority here is not on how they can sell stuffed animals and T-shirts, but rather, on finding a property with limitless creative potential.

    Disney in Orlando is over-saturated with attractions that skew to the very, very young, with very little to appease the teen-adult theme park goers. The world of Avatar offers a unique opportunity to build tranquil child-friendly soft rides AND deliver incredible state-of-the-art thrills to capture all demographics all rolled into one. This is a unique opportunity for Disney, and a chance to give Animal Kingdom, which never stays open when the sun goes down, a needed energy boost.

    While Star Wars will have a surge with the new upcoming Episodes VII-IX, the brand right now is tired, especially with how played out it already is in the parks, i.e. Star Wars Weekends at the Hollywood Studios. Thus, replacing Avatar with some form of Star Wars expansion, as some in these boards suggest, will create far less buzz and excitement.

    Let’s not forget that Avatar is still the highest grossing film of all-time. It is also one of the most spectacular visual experiences ever put onto film. Translating this into a tangible land that we can walk through and experience, to me, is incredibly exciting.

    Lastly, Al’s quote at the end of his article, “Don’t let Animal Kingdom become Disney’s Florida Adventure, speak up!” is COMPLETELY illogical and absurd as follows:

    - First, he praises the suits for evolving Disney California Adventure into what it is today: “Iger’s efforts to this point, along with the direction provided by Lasseter have resulted in an improved second gate for Anaheim.” And now he says he doesn’t have faith in the same execs who made the right decisions before?

    - “A shopkeeper and a schoolteacher…with their visions of inexpensively constructed shops and restaurants…” So first Al slams Disney for their 2001 California Adventure focus on shops and merchandising, and then he goes on to say, “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.” So now Al is slamming Disney for NOT putting their focus on shops and merchandising? Hilarious.

    • aquaboi77

      I agree with you whole heartedly . I am so excited to see what the Imagineers can do with this land. I hated the Cars movies and was irritated that they were making a land for it, but after hearing the reviews and seeing the photos, I can’t wait to see it. So, if Disney can make me feel that way about Pixar’s worst films, I can’t wait to see what they do with James Cameron’s masterpiece. Yes Al: masterpiece. Your opinion is in the minority on this one.

      Just on the sheer numbers alone this will be a boon for Disney. Add the worldwide gross of the two Cars movies and they don’t even equal a quarter of the gross brought in by the one Avatar movie. And with 2 or more sequels planned, I don’t see how it can miss. And jerhow is also right about the teen/adult demographic that is looking for something more thrilling. Disney needs to up the ante in this department.

      I think it’s safe to say that everyone reading and posting on this site has a special love for Disney and it’s parks, but there is a huge part of the general population (me included) that isn’t obsessed with plush dolls and meet n greets with Disney characters. We want some adventure with our theme parks. Even though I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, I would much rather visit Pandora that Diagon Alley any day. And with the amount of money Disney sank into Star Wars, I don’t think we need to fret about Avatar taking over that franchise either. There’s no doubt in my mind more Star Wars attractions are coming. Add that to the Marvel stuff, and Disney has the chance of really monopolizing the theme park market for thrill seekers for decades to come.

  • disneytom

    How does this sound? I say we call this new area of DAK “John Carter of Avatar” land! I fear this new land is going to be about as successful as that film project was. I pity the kids at “Yellow Shoes” trying to figure out how to sell this hopeless opus.

    Nothing makes me want to yawn more than the prospect of an Avatar Land at WDW. The only bright spot is that this debacle is going to be located within my least favorite Disney park, DAK,. Thankfully I won’t have to trip over this nonsense when I go to visit the Magic Kingdom (about the only WDW park that I can still stomach anymore because the other three have been so dumbed down so much lately).

    While I saw the Avatar movie and I thought it was visually stunning, I truly can’t recall the name of one character in it. Yes, I know that there were tall blue people in it. I think they were called the “Naboo” because the trailer kept stressing that point; but I honestly can’t recall a principle character in the film.

    Why Disney/Iger would want to invest in this franchise is beyond me. This is the “John Cater” of theme park decisions. It’s simply not going to have any long-term play. Sooner than later this land will go the way of the Wonders of Life pavilion (and what Mission Space is about to become). In the case of Wonders of Life the pavilion was just a bit too far off the beaten path with attractions that were bland from a repeatability perspective – it got to the point that you thought to yourself – “well Star Tours is more fun so if I have to do a simulator ride this trip I’ll just invest my time over at MGM and do it there”.

    Even with a few new sequels in the works, there is no guarantee that Cameron will match the success of the first film. Then, gee, perhaps we have another uncompleted Narnia on our hands. To be honest, I don’t even remember how the first film ended and who lived and who died. Cameron insisted on Titanic 3D and the public yawned – what does Avatar 2 hold in store????

    I think one of the other issues is that Joe Rhode is involved with this project. I’m sure he’s gotten nice and chummy with Cameron and his posse and he’s brokering Iger’s expectations on all of this too.

    But let’s face it, Rhode’s baby…DAK just can’t churn out repeat visitors or first time preferential visits. It’s a park located in the middle of BFE so it’s difficult to get to. It doesn’t set itself apart too much from the San Diego Zoo, Sea World or Busch Gardens and really is as tired as Epcot and DHS currently is. They say they are “not a zoo” and that animals are only a focus – what is this park besides Schizophrenic?? When’s the last time they actually added any new animal exhibits to the mix? I guess Sea World has the fish and penguin market tapped so they probably can’t go there at DAK. When they add new rides they don’t seem to work – the lack of a fierce Yeti makes Everest a bore – he’s the star of the show isn’t he and he’s nothing short of bladder shy.

    Avatar is coming at the expense of Beastly and it’s really such a shame. One of the reasons Potter is so popular is that they have mythical animals in the canon. With all of the themes from Greek literature (the Hydra) to mythos such as Unicorns, Pans, etc. – Disney really could carve out a memorable and repeat experience at DAK if they tried. Instead pony tail guy gets to run with Avatar!!!!

    Disney is going to need a lot of cutting edge technology to bring “John Cater of Avatar” land to life so I wish them luck. I wish they’d reconsider but since they’ve committed in the press (again) it seems like this shotgun wedding is going forward.