Since Disney announced in September of 2011 that they were partnering with James Cameron to bring AVATAR to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I’ve been wrestling with the idea. Initially I thought that somebody was making a joke. When I realized it was for real, I can’t say I was overly wild about the news. However, over the course of a week or so, I warmed to the idea when I started thinking about the incredibly colorful visuals from the film and how they might be able to re-create these in the park. But then, recently, I watched the film again and realized there are a few hurdles that Imagineering will have to overcome to sell the AVATAR story in the parks.
First, everything depicted on Pandora is huge. Re-creating park versions of the sets will most likely be scaled down significantly. There are also many elements and visuals from the planet that will be near impossible to duplicate in a real-world setting. I suppose they can re-create the trees that the Na’vi lived in on a smaller scale, but will they have the same effect and feel as in the movie? Also, the air and environment on Pandora is not very human friendly. The air is not breathable without an oxygen mask, then there are numerous wild animals that are less than friendly. None of these are really show stoppers though, as they could be dealt with somewhat easily in an imagined setting, kind of how its done in Little Mermaid or Space Mountain or other Disney attractions.
Another issue I see is in crafting a story line that will magically transport us from planet Earth to Pandora (and back). The movie set it up quickly and easily by beginning at the end of the 5+ year trek from earth with the characters waking up from cryosleep. This problem isn’t as big, because it could be handled in the same manner as it’s done on Mission:Space at Epcot. On this ride, the narration simply tells you that it’s time to go to sleep, then just moments later wakes you up. But, even with the supposed 5 year journey simulated, what would be our reason for visiting Pandora. Since we’re at DAK, I’m guessing it has to be something tied to the conservation theme, along the lines of helping the Na’vi for some reason.
Third, and probably most critical and difficult (for me) to get around is the fact that the antagonist in AVATAR is us, the human race! In our greed to possess the treasure of Pandora, unobtanium, we nearly destroyed the planet (moon actually) and it’s native people, the Na’vi. The way the movie ended, we were being kicked off the planet. So, why would they now welcome us back? Two possible solutions to this problem:
1) Rewind the timeline of the story and take us back in time on Pandora when Grace and the others are still running the school referenced in the movie. Since it’s a part of the story that was only lightly brushed over in the movie, it could be re-told in a way that would put both us and the Na’vi on more friendly terms. We could be part of the new education staff sent to teach and study the Na’vi and Pandora, before everything fell apart. This story-line would seem to fit in well with DAKs teaching/conservation theme.
2) Go back even further in the timeline and make us some of the first visitors sent on a mission to explore the planet and establish peaceful relations with them. Each of these still requires a transport method and story to take us there, but as pointed out earlier, these are minor aspects that could be dealt with any number of ways.
Update: 4/27/12 – I came up with another possibility/idea for the story-line.
3) Pandora training center. The development company, RDA, has established an earthbound laboratory that replicates the more human-friendly aspects of Pandora that is used as a training and education facility to familiarize employees with the environment before making the 6-year trip. This one sticks with DAKs teaching theme, and eliminates the necessity to develop a “transport method” to get us to the real Pandora.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that they could just throw all of these issues to the wayside and tell a whole new story without any regard for what the movie portrayed or the issues raised above.I mean, they could just plop a big show building down in AK or build a re-creation of the foliage and animatronic friendly versions of the wildlife with little or no story to introduce or explain the area. Regardless, I’m somewhat eager to see what they plan for this new section and how they plan to take us there.