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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  • stitch1085

    Avatar does not have the “street cred’ (if you will) that Star Wars and Harry Potter both have. I mean let’s face it Harry Potter wasn’t even completed until 5 or 6 movies had been released, long after the books had been HUGELY popular. And Star Wars, I mean nothing touches that franchise. Why Avatar? That movie bored me to tears! I get it, let’s all live in harmony with mother Earth, blah blah blah, BORING! When I go to Animal Kingdom I want to see ANIMALS not ALIENS! I would love to see an Australia area added to the park with more Kangaroos and Koalas and all those critters that I loved seeing in The Rescuers Down Under! They need to bulldoze camp Minnie-Mickey and Hester and Chester and Lester’s or whoever’s Dino-Rama and create a more memorable Dinosaur land. When the LA County Fair did a Dino exhibit I was blown away that such a modest effort could turn out such an amazing exhibit! Disney needs to stop trying to get by on the cheap. Everyone knows YOU GOTTA SPEND MONEY TO MAKE MONEY!!!!! That’s Business 101!

  • Nczerks23

    The biggest problem with the upkeep of the parks is the strength of certain Unions. Lightbulb Changers make over $50,000 working for WDW with “cadillac” healthcare and a better 401k than most of the frontline management teams. It’s not sustainable.

    • aquaboi77

      Boo hiss.

      • aquaboi77

        I support Unions.

      • BrianFuchs

        Support them all you want. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s not sustainable. Remember the Twinkie?

      • Nczerks23

        I support Unions too when they are actually fighting for workers rights to a safe working environment etc… but when they fight for unsustainable wages and make it impossible to get rid of dead weight employees, I can’t support that. Ask any front line manager out there if the union is not their #1 headache, I guarantee it is.

    • jerhow

      This is the best post on this thread ever.

  • cellarhound

    As I have said… If Avatar in the parks is ANYTHING other than a fully immersive, state of the art, virtual reality experience; I would be disappointed. WDI is very good at what it does… Fully immersive, state of the art, computer based VR experiances is not one of them. (Look at DisneyQuest – case in point)

  • kirbilicious

    When I first heard about Avatarland, I was underwhelmed. I thought it was in overrated movie and would rather have the rumored Australia project built. However, the more I think about it, I think the project could be really great. Avatar does have striking visuals and if Disney is able to recreate those environments, it could be something quite magical. I’m not sure if the lack of strong characters is an issue. Aren’t some of Disney’s greatest attractions built upon just experiencing the environment without having a story shoved down your throat? Rides like Pirates (before Jack Sparrow) and Haunted Mansion thrive despite not being story or charcter driven. Let’s also not forget that mediocre movies can give rise to great attractions. Universal’s Kongrontation was a classic depsite it being based off the entirely mediocre 1976 version of King Kong.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Walt had a philosophy that worked and I am amazed at current Disney management fails to continue. Walt said that he built rides that appealed to the child within us all. Walt had a gift to connect to his child within his heart to see the world as a child would. He knew that if he build attractions that children would enjoy along with adults, he would have a unique approach to an amusement park. That has worked. Children like pirates, so do adults. Children like ghosts, so do adults. But Avatar is not connecting wtih children. They like the visuals, but as Al pointed out, the characters do not connect with them. I would also say that they don’t connect with the child within us all. Do I want to fly one of those creatures through the skies as in the movie, absolutely. But will Disney be able to pull that off convincingly, or even try? I believe not. It will only be a lame land that subtracts from the Disney mystique and not adds to it. Al is right. Cut your losses with this before you have to spend an extra two billion to fix it.

  • Dapper Dan

    “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.”

    This is essentially what I’ve been saying since the idea was announced. It seems that either nobody at Disney is thinking long term or they are gambling everything on Avatar somehow becoming a franchise with sustained longevity.

  • whamo

    As an OG (original guest) at Disneyland and Carsland, on their opening days, and AP Premium Disney Geek who likes to wear his Grumpy hat, baseball shirt, and Disney lanyard with pins, I say nay, nay, nay, as one of my favorite comedians likes to say, to Avatar in Disney World.

  • waymire01

    The validity of Avatarland set aside for a moment.. highly agree that Disney needs to put their focus on fixing the existing issues before they invest in more new attractions. Give us back a functional Yeti.. then worry about a new ride in AK. Make the rides sparkle and shine.. then open that new restaurant. Our last trip we spent more time thinking “wow, this is really getting shabby”, “the quality has gone downhill”, “they definitely need more buses on this route”, and sometimes just “ick”.. than wishing we had a new ride/attraction to see. Considering the costs involved in a Disney vacation, that is NOT the way to get those all important repeat customers. I have no problem with the interactive queues, just polish the ride at the same time and don’t change it to the point of being unrecognizable (RIP poor Test Track).. Dumbo is a great example of how to do it right.

    To be honest, I’ve never seen Avatar. No, I’m not a hermit.. lol. I just felt the story was really generic, I had seen it multiple times in other “clothes”, and it held little interest for me. It was shoved so far down our throats when it came out that I had already seen all the good parts and knew the entire story anyway. The main selling point was the 3D, and at the time that was great.. but now who hasn’t seen a dozen or more 3D movies? Even back then, as a DW attendee I had been exposed to a lot more 3D than the average person. Not only is it just not terribly interesting to me.. it’s not Disney. If I wanted to spend my trip doing “not Disney” things.. I would go to Universal. I would go so far to say I would rather have an area devoted to Princess and the Frog than Avatar… Some beautiful buildings, fireflies/crickets/chirping frogs, good creole cuisine, a nice dark ride, maybe a fun swampy area with interactive characters and music… and I don’t even like P.a.t.F all that much.

    Concerning the age appropriate argument.. I have two kids, ages 18 and 9, and neither of them has any interest in Avatar. Animal Kingdom in particular has a large lean towards older kids and adults already.. the three major rides are each too much for the average young child, and the age appropriate rides are on the midway.. while they are a fun diversion they are not that great, certainly not Disney caliber. We also have two shows (pretty good, but kids want to get out there and DO something), dino statues to climb on (which seriously need some love by the painting department), a train (the least picturesque train ride in the entire “world”), and of course the animals. Disney is, and always has been, a family park.. we need attractions that the family can enjoy as a group. What about Fantasia.. lots of good fantastic animals there… If they insist on going outside of the Disney stable for attractions, I think the studio Ghibli or Pokemon are both excellent suggestions. Here’s a thought.. how about actually doing something with Camp Mickey.. my kids ask me every time where the fun camp stuff is.

    • ttintagel

      “Make the rides sparkle and shine.. then open that new restaurant… I have no problem with the interactive queues, just polish the ride at the same time and don’t change it to the point of being unrecognizable (RIP poor Test Track).”

      Oh, man, this could not be more true. I just got back from WDW, and when I saw the latest projection added to PotC, I thought it was OK, but I couldn’t help fantasizing about what it would be like if they went through and replaced each AA figure with the latest model. I think it would be as jaw-dropping to see how the scenes would spring to life as it was for the guests who first saw the original. And even without the crab game, the scope and artistry of the new Little Mermaid queue made me feel like the Pirates queue did when I was a kid.

      Hopping on a steam train to get from one end of a park to another, or onto the Monorail to go between parks is as exciting as getting on a ride, and the kids seemed to enjoy it, too. How cool would it be to replace some of those buses with fun, alternate types of transport?

  • animatronic

    Totally. Avatar is simply not the type of movie to build a themepark land around. The characters and story are not beloved… Well done Al. It’ll be a big take back for Iger to say, “Oops!”

  • BrianFuchs

    I have never been less excited about a Disney announcement than when I heard about Avatarland. I remember checking the date to make sure it wasn’t a MiceAge April Fools article.

    Like many, I ignored it, thinking it would “go away” – especially after the deal announced with Lucas. Now that Disney has reaffirmed this strange decision, I’m puzzled again.

    I spent my $20 to see Avatar, and found it to be a much preachier version of Pocahontas, but with blue people. I cannot remember the name of a single character from it, and have no desire to see any sequel when it comes out. The story was paper thin and no amount of special effects could save it. But most of all, I think Cameron is startlingly full of himself, and I foresee any Avatar ride or show to carry a heavy dose of his political leanings.

    Potterland works so brilliantly because it is based on a fully-fleshed, incredibly rich story. The books were a theme park on paper. I mean, if your job was to come up with half a dozen shops and restaurants based on Avatar, could you come up with even ONE? Could you even come up with names for those shops that people would identify with the movie?

    Maybe a Disney Avatarland would work in some parallel universe. The only thing that needs to be done first is to create an Avatar movie that has an interesting plot, memorable characters and places, and is family friendly.

    • GrumpyFan

      I’ve never been more mixed about a Disney announcement. Like many, I too thought it was a joke at first, but then realized it was legitimate. I have since warmed to the idea of it, but still have many reservations about it going into AK or any Disney park. I’m sure WDI can work with this and come up with something enjoyable, but I have to wonder if it’s time and money well-spent, or if they would be better in the long run just building their own land using a different theme, not necessarily with a movie tie-in.

      I see many issues with Avatar, some of which already mentioned, including merchandising and the lack of a real story that people could identify with. For the most part, the movie itself was just a really well done 3D movie with some action in it, which explains why nobody remembers the characters. Maybe it’s a minor issue, but I struggle with exactly how we’re supposed to visit Pandora when the last we saw, human-kind wasn’t welcome there.

  • sandiegomousefan

    I think ultimately the success or failure of Avatarland rests solely on Cameron. Can he really “world build” in an interesting and compelling way?

    This is hard. The best “completely from scratch” worldbuilders (Tolkien, Herbert) were BOTH geniuses at it AND used several thousands of words to realize their visions. Others (Rowling) use existing cultural loadstones to help ground her work (in Rowling’s case the English Public School) or close enough worlds to our own that exposition isn’t required (Cars being grounded firmly in the American Southwest and Route 66). Still others borrow heavily on existing frameworks and add in a few twists (Lucas – whose star wars universe is stock space opera of galaxy spanning empire – what is different is “The Force”)

    Conversely, Cameron has released ONE movie and some related tie in media. There are not hundreds of books on Avatar land, no world building, no nothing .Given a billion dollars can the imagineers so something fun to look at? Sure. But will it drive turnstyle visits to WDW and get tourists to spend more money with the Mouse? I doubt it.

    Avatarland ultimately feels like “panic” about Potterland. And maybe they HAD to so that. But, interestingly, go wonder a book store. You will see SOME potter stuff but not NEARLY as much as you did 6-7 years ago. Meanwhile the Disneymarchine keeps cranking out love of princesses.

  • jcruise86

    Al, thank you for taking the time to write so well
    and for caring so much about places I care about!

  • Tinkerbell

    I agree. Is it really that much to ask of Disney and its Imagineers to design something entirely original? Something that is uniquely Disney? Isn’t that what they used to do best?


    I think this whole Avatar project is dumb. Yes is was a popular film at the time, and yes another film is going to get released, but it just doesn’t have the popularity or timelessness to have a large portion of a theme park built around it.

    Avatar has no place in popular culture. If you go into Target you will see Star Wars, Cars, and whatever else toys there regardless of how many years its been since there was a film to push them. Avatar just doesn’t have the same effect without a current film and constant advertising to bash it into peoples brains. The film wasn’t a flop, it made tons of money, but it tried to force its way into popular culture and while it lasted for a short while, it quickly faded.

  • DisneybyMark

    Aloha Al!

    I agree with you so very much on this issue. I thought it appropriate to share an editorial from me last year on this subject…

    “So yesterday they announced that Animal Kingdom will have a new “Avatar Land.” Years ago when Disney announced the deal on Indiana Jones we at WDI wondered if a non-Disney property would work in the park or not. It turned out to be a great idea for an attraction, and in Adventureland. Now we are ready to open a “Cars Land” at DCA. I’m sure it will be fun but I question if a movie can support a “Land” for very long. You see to me a Land is an Idea, not a character or a movie. For example look at Fantasyland. It has 15 movie attractions all centering on one idea, Fantasy. All the lands follow the same format and they work wonderfully. So let’s review: Ideas are: Fantasy, The World of Tomorrow, a World Showcase, the American Frontier, etc. The theme of the lands give the attractions a home with other complementary stories. I admit that Harry Potter works as a “Land” because it is very, very deep in its story lines. It also has a staying power that Avatar will never achieve, but Universal Studios is all movie based (so the Disney rules don’t apply.) I hope the current Disney leadership doesn’t try to change our parks into “Movie” lands. I think it will cheapen the experience for young and old.”

    I think Avatar would make a great ride next to Star Tours at DHS or maybe in Tomorrowland at Disneyland, but no-way should it ever be a land!

    • Mr Wiggins

      > I hope the current Disney leadership doesn’t try to change our parks into “Movie” lands. I think it will cheapen the experience for young and old. <

      Too late…

      "Disneyland is all about turning movies into rides."
      - Michael Eisner