Just Say No to Avatar Land

Written by MiceAge. Posted in MiceAge Update

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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. Generally, you'll find a new MiceAge news update from Al and crew once or twice a month on Tuesdays. The MiceAge news Editor can be reached at: [email protected]

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82 Comments

Comments for Just Say No to Avatar Land are now closed.

  1. Al, whatever the legitimate criticisms of WDW, I think choosing Avatar-land as the target of that criticism is misdirected.

    Would I rather have Beastlie Kingdomme on that spot? Yes. Would I rather see fewer film-based lands and attractions? Yes. Is there a long way to go to reverse the mistakes of the last 17 years? Yes. Are the Avatar characters the most natural fit for Disney? No. Is Avatar itself a truly great film? No. Is there going to be a merchandizing bonaza for the Mouse? Likely not.

    But say what you will the overall trajectory for WDW has been to “incline by degrees” more than “decline by degrees” for the last five years or so. Starting with meaningful (and mostly classy) updates of rides like Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth, to New Fantasyland and Test Track most recently, there have substantive improvements which do in general add value to the parks and which uphold historic standards of quality. Camp Mickey-Minnie is largely a waste of real estate, and FOTLK could easily be relocated in Africa. Whatever the virtues of the film itself and whatever the merchandise potential, the theme of the story (living in harmony with nature) fits well with the park, the new land is likely to be beautifully detailed and the main ride itself likely to draw large crowds. Perhaps this land won’t have the longevity of the classics but is likely to have a reasonable return on investment over the next couple of decades. This may not be any Potter killer but it definitely add value to AK and go a long way towards making it a full day park.

  2. For the sake of “signing the petition,” I agree, I’m not even remotely interested in Avatar land. I’ve visited WDW in the last year and frequent Disneyland. I saw the movie Avatar only after its inexplicable massive box office haul. And it was ok, but, to borrow an expression, in one eye and out the other. PLEASE DON”T BUILD AVATAR LAND!!!! PUT ALL THAT MONEY TOWARD A STAR WARS LAND – PREFERABLY LANDS FROM THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY! A living, breathing Jabba the Hutt would be exciting, right?

  3. > 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. <

    Quote of the year.

    As applied to Disney Corp, quote of the decade.

  4. I’m not sure if anyone will read this all the way down, but I was interested at first by what Avatar would look like as an attraction but like the movie, you fall into the world when you watch it and then forget it for awhile. One thing I do know is that Star Trek the Tour and Star Trek the Experience were fantastic short lived attractions. The Tour never got past the first stop in Long Beach. The Tour and the Ride was the best attractions I’ve ever experienced and fans need to seek out these Star Trek attractions. I’d rather go on a ride or view props that have been painstakingly crafted by an artist rather than stand in line for three hours to meet Johnathan Franks. Perhaps Disney or Universal would make a great beacon for Star Trek attractions. Although, I don’t give credit to a wierd Star Trek attraction on youtube where guests could star in an episode. This apparently was an attraction at Universal. But I digress, a Star Trek attraction has a proven quality over Avatar and would make a better fit.

    Here’s a link to a youtube clip of the old Universal Studios Star Trek show.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlCkAnZn3BQ

  5. The thing that is missing from Avatar is not whether you remember the character’s names, but would you like to travel WITH them FURTHER than you have so far?

    Toy Story, yep, we like these characters and want to see more of them.

    Luke, Leia, Han, Yoda, ObiWan and their ragtag band of rebels? Heck yes! We even like the villains and want to see more of what they are doing.

    Mater and Lightning? Great buddies.. where are they going next?

    Cinderella and the Faires? Peter Pan, Wendy, The Lost Boys and especially Tinkerbell? Ariel and Flounder? Aladdin, Jasmine and the Genie? Pumbaa and Timon? Nemo, Marlin and Dory? Yes to all, we’d like to see what else they are up to and feel like part of their family. Heck, I’d even like to hang with Scat Cat, O’Malley and the gang if I could again…

    The success of all Disney attractions and lands are about whether the CHILD in each of us identifies with the characters in that land and wants to either spend more time in their company, or BE them. Is the popularity of Beauty and the Beast about looking beyond the surface of people, like it preaches, or do we just like being in the company of a beautiful girl who loves a not-so-beastly Beast and his cadre of amusing furnishings? Do we want to go into that creepy temple on our own, or would we rather accompany one of the greatest adventurers of all times? Heck, would we even go down the jungle rivers of the world if we didn’t have a guide with a gun who manages to elude tigers and hostile natives each day and is personal friends with Trader Sam? Is it even conceivable that we’d wander around a creeky old Mansion were it not for our cackling Ghost Host? And would the plundering of the Spanish Main hold such interest if there weren’t at least a bit of the Jim Hawkins in each of us? “Ay, properly warned ye be says I…” is actually an invitation when you travel with Long John Silver, or now, Cap’n Jack Sparrow!

    Whether Cameron is successful with Avatar the Sequel will be based on whether we still want to travel with Jake Sully and his new family. Honestly myself, as I watched the movie I felt like it would make a good HISHE video where a capital ship simply smoked a hole in the planet from orbit and the miners dropped in and took whatever they wanted like the 49ers of old California. When your mental image ends up being “Sure I feel sorry for these guys, but really, who cares.” then you’re not going to hang with them for another round. The way the Na’vi were portrayed, I felt like they were just an annoying race of complainers who wouldn’t allow any quarter to the aliens on their planet… and that was ALL. Just cardboard characters. Unlike Dances with Wolves, a FAR superior film to Avatar and essentially about the exact same thing, I came to feel DEEPLY for the Sioux and saw the U.S. Calvary as misguided and borderline evil, for the first time in my life. THAT is a game-changer that lasts and makes me want to ride further with our protagonists. WIth Avatar, it felt like all of the characters were so distasteful and pig-headed and one-dimensional that I didn’t care about ANY of them. Was the WORLD interesting to LOOK at? Yes, but not moreso than any Frank Frazetta background.

    Studio Ghibli, Tolkein, Rowling, A.A. Milne, give us not just beautiful or fascinating locations, but characters that touch us in a deep place so that we EMPATHIZE with them and WANT to carry on with them. THAT is what Cameron is missing in Avatar. So, once I’ve BEEN to his world, I’ve seen it. No further reason to go, because it holds no more purpose for me. Detached thrills are what carnivals are about. Disney meant to leave that world behind from the inception. I agree with Al that heading that way now would end up as a mistake.

  6. Acquiring the lord of the rings franchise for theme park rights would of been an interesting option ,While I wish they would of chosen this route, I am willing to give them a chance to see what happens with Avatar

  7. I have many arguments against an Avatar land, and Al covered many of them in this article. There’s one, however, that I don’t hear many people making, and it makes me a little bit sad. Disney Theme Parks are slowly losing their unique stories and getting filled more franchises everywhere you look. I understand the reasoning behind this: franchises provide proven money-making machines on which to base an attraction or land. I even love many of the things that come out of it. But I’m afraid Disney has lost the chance at creating new stories unique to the Theme Parks. Expedition Everest was the last attraction I can think of that wasn’t tied to a pre-existing franchise of some sort.

    When people think of Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom, they think of classic attractions like the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Carribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain. None of those were tied to movies or other forms of entertainment when they were built (although two of them were subsequently tied to films, one more successfully than the other) – they were simply Theme Park attractions with great stories. Something like the Pirates films, for instance, would hardly be possible with today’s attractions. You can’t create a new movie franchise out of something that’s already a multi-film franchise to start with, after all.

    As much as I’d love to see that Kingdom Hearts ride/show/land/whatever that lives in my head, I’d like even more for Disney to remember that there are good ideas that could draw visitors to their Theme Parks beyond what already exists in other divisions of the company. Once upon a time, Imagineers used to create new stories alongside the pre-existing stories they worked with. I’m sure they still do, but the money doesn’t get put behind those stories, and therein lies the problem.

  8. [...] Al Lutz, writing over at Mice Age: 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. [...]

  9. The biggest example of focusing on pennies while ignoring dollars is the stagnation of Epcot.

    Epcot has more available capacity than any of the other Disney parks – worldwide – but has the lowest relative utilization. Epcot on New Years Eve will have more guests in it than Disneyland and DCA combined. That’s where it’s full capacity is set at.

    During a normal operational day are there more people in Epcot than Disneyland and DCA? Not by a long shot. Epcot is vastly underutilized.

    Every penny spent getting a few more thousand people into DHS and DAK before Epcot is a wasted penny.

  10. Couldn’t agree more. Avatar might well be a one-hit wonder — two yet-to-be-made movies poses a huge risk, should they bomb.

    I see the same issues with Inoventions at Disneyland becoming an Iron man attraction. I think Wall-E would be better.

    Wall-E is character and story-driven film, not mechanical-suit driven. It had a great messages about environmentalism, friendship, and hope. And there’s no reason a ride based on Wall-E couldn’t be fast, fun, and futuristic.

    The message Iron Man conveys is that wealth buys you the right to be an ass and do as you please. And, aside from the Iron Man suit’s technology, it’s basically not futuristic at all.

  11. I don’t think the Walt Disney Co is the right place for James Cameron to take his AVATAR LAND … I think he would be better off working with Universal (they seem to have a need to bring in anything that offers a new experience that will compete) & there’s already a previous working relationship with regards to T-2 3D …. I think Avatar may be better off as just an Attraction and / or Ride vs an entire section of a theme park .. I do agree that WDW has various theme parks that need more oomph added to them sooner (and not later)

    C J