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“And the bigger one is called a Giant Leonopterix” : Theme Park Designers on the Disney / Avatar News


James Cameron and Bob Iger,  CEO,  The Walt Disney Company discuss the Avatar Theme Park"AVATAR is a uniquely powerful franchise that has global appeal with audiences of all ages, " said

Thomas O. Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts yesterday.   (see : Disney, Fox and James Cameron to Bring AVATAR to Life at Disney Parks) Whilst AVATAR was undoubtedly successful as an event and as a piece of business, it could be argued that it was less so as a film, a special effects triumph but a rather mundane narrative.

In my opinion it was a brilliant piece of film making, and the plot and characters, though perhaps perfunctory, were always going to be secondary to the astonishing world of Pandora. It is the unique visuals and of course the promise of sequels to come that will propel the franchise to further continued success and  with Disney sprinkling their magic the theme park rides and experience will undoubtedly be ground breaking. We spoke to some leading theme park creatives to see what they thought…

Dave Cobb, Sr. Creative Director at Thinkwell Design & Production:

"At first glance, it may look like an odd fit to put AVATAR into Disney’s Animal Kingdom park – “isn’t that a sci-fi movie?” seems to be a common question. However, AK was always intended to have a section with mythical animals: "Beastly Kingdom" was an abandoned land concept with unicorns and dragons. Replace that with Pandora’s creatures and glowing bioluminescent environments, and you have some truly amazing creative potential. AVATAR was both a metaphor for ecology and an eye-popping, cutting-edge spectacle — both of which would fit perfectly in Animal Kingdom. I can’t wait to fly on an Ikran amongst the floating mountains!" 

Brent Young, Owner CCO Super 78:

“This development is proof positive that the theme park arms race is on and Disney’s going head-to-head with Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  There’s no other reason for Disney to shoehorn an Avatar attraction into a park they’ve spent 14 years positioning as an animal park, because the minute the new experience opens, it becomes the Avatar theme park, upstaging the Animal Kingdom brand.  The better play would be to leverage the new Marvel relationship and blend it with Avatar to create a new park that’s more appropriate for the more adult themes those brands represent – Disney’s Sci-Fi Kingdom.” 

Norm Elder, President/CEO at Norman J.T. Elder & Associates, Inc.: 

"Avatar is a terrific content "fit" for Disney on many levels.  First, it is certainly the most vivid and convincing creation of a fantasy world ever seen in the history of motion pictures.  It immerses you in a thoroughly compelling world, imagined and crafted with a depth of detail that is amazing.  And it conveys multiple profound, challenging messages via an archetypal story designed for mass appeal….for those "eight to eighty, " as James Cameron said. And the Disney organization has the creative talent and financial horsepower to bring the story to life experientially and emotionally.  Blending their multi-dimensional story-telling talents with those of James Cameron can only result in experiences never before presented in themed entertainment environments." 

Amelia Ulmer, Business Development at Mousetrappe, Inc.:

"This is an exciting announcement for the themed entertainment industry.  James Cameron pushed 3D visuals to a mind-blowing new level and Avatar has raised the audience’s expectations for in-theater immersion.  Of course, we’ve all been lost in the story of a film before, but together we “went to” Pandora.

What an exciting challenge for Disney to push the boundaries of immersive storytelling and technical execution that will transport park goers into a touchable Pandora.

It is an intriguing and compelling concept to join the immersive natural environment of Disney’s Animal Kingdom with James Cameron’s otherworldly vision of nature and environment.   I can’t wait to experience it."

Dave Goodman, CEO at Goodman Experiences LLC :

"I think the addition of "Avatar" to the Disney family of theme parks is a brilliant choice. With close to 3 billion dollars in revenue worldwide, the film clearly captured the imaginations of a global audience.

The race to obtain recognizable intellectual property that can propel immediate revenue growth within a larger brand like Disney, Universal, (or now SeaWorld), is getting more and more competitive.

Management seems to be searching for the "sure thing" during these challenging economic times. It seems to me that Iger and Staggs have found what most would consider a "sure thing".

That being said, the execution of such a strong property like "Avatar" is always a challenge and for some possibly a concern.

There is no doubt in my mind that the team at Walt Disney Imagineering and Entertainment will find the right methods, (attractions, live shows, atmosphere entertainment, merchandise etc), to properly showcase the essence of the film in ways that reach their Guests.

It will be interesting to see how they execute the content and even more importantly, how they tell the story itself and create a positive emotional response…one that can fit well with both Disney’s core conceit and the overall message in "Avatar". 

William Gorgensen, Board Member at TEA European & Middle Eastern Division:

"There came a point after the loss of Frank Wells when the developers took over the reins of WDI and the focus shifted from innovation to acquisition.  This was the period that started with non-Disney brands such as Planet Hollywood, Rain Forest Cafe, House of Blues, etc. were included into Disney locations.  Some of these were successful, some not and even some of the more successful ones were not necessarily up to the design, story or level of quality that we had been told was the Disney trademark.

I see this bonding with Avatar much in the same light.  I realize it was a big film in terms of technology and box office but the story was a bit mundane ( Dances with Wolves is often alluded to).  Although there are two more films in the pipeline, the 3D craze is slowing tremendously and the capture method is in use more and more so, in order for this franchise to be one on which to hang a number of multimillion dollar theme parks, they have to be much better than the original.  If not, the franchise will die and it might take the parks with them.  This is not an IP like Indiana Jones, Star Trek or Star Wars consisting of multiple films, some good, some bad, which allow the IP to take a hit off and on and still survive.  This is only one film and, in industry standards, a dated one.  Personally, I would have like to have seen an innovative addition coming from the WDI brain trust rather than one where an outside idea is brought in and a Disney name is put on it but, who knows?  Maybe it will work."

Al Cross, Vice President PGAV Destinations :

"Star Wars and Indiana Jones proved Disney’s ability to adapt non-Disney properties into theme park experiences. So, on the surface there’s no reason to doubt that Avatar will succeed. I can imagine a rich, wildly themed environment, and ride concepts are already jumping out of my brain. What I hope for is an approach that engages the real (earthly) animals who are the genuine heart of Animal Kingdom. And while that’s easy to say, merging a story about another planet, with its own imaginary wildlife, into the story of our planet, its wildlife and its future … and still meet the expectations of the theme park guest … well, now, that’s a tall order. It sounds like fun. I wish I could be involved."

David Willrich, Managing Director, DJ Willrich Ltd. :

I am intrigued that Disney do not feel that they have enough of their own IP to have to dive down this path. Whilst I can understand the concept of AVATAR being a good fit in Animal Kingdom, I don’t see it integrating well into the other parks around the world. Having said that, they have a great opportunity and excuse to go as high-tech as Imagineering can muster up the budget for!

In my view the all time best Theme Park attraction is Spider Man, in Universal’s Island of Adventure and I have to confess that I was disappointed to not have replaced this with Harry Potter in the same park. With AVATAR, Disney certainly have a theme that can both take on and deliver the worlds best Theme Park attraction………

Image:WALT DISNEY PARKS AND RESORTS WORLDWIDE CAMERON & IGER Groundbreaking filmmaker James Cameron and Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, share their collaborative vision for bringing the incredible world of AVATAR to life in Disney parks.(PRNewsFoto/Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide, Scott Brinegar) BURBANK, CA UNITED STATES

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