Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Requiem for Avatar?


Late last night, my Twitter account blew up with rumors that the hierarchy at the Walt Disney Company have killed the “Avatar Land” idea slated for construction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  While I can not confirm the veracity of these rumors, it gives us a chance to stop and think about whether any cancellation of this enormous project would be a negative for Animal Kingdom fans, or a positive in disguise.

image copyright Disney

First thing’s first, let me admit I am not a fan of the film Avatar, the James Cameron mega-hit that demolished box office records a couple of years back.  I saw the film once.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.  So when Disney and Cameron announced this project last year, I didn’t leap with joy.

But I am a realist as well.  This film was a HUGE hit, and I know many, many folks, mostly college age and younger, who think this was the greatest film ever made!  Those people did, in fact, leap with joy when this announcement was made, and those of us who hold more traditional views of where Disney should go when seeking inspiration for a new “land” need to admit that fact.

Yes, an Avatar area of the Animal Kingdom is something of a continuity stretch.  The film has a very palpable conservation message which goes well with the park’s existing message, but that is about where the relationship ends.

From a conceptual standpoint, the film does lend itself well to a “land” type of treatment.  The most absorbing part of the film for me was the world it created and that world does bare a resemblance, albeit abstractly, to something that can fit aesthetically into DAK.  And if, like the rumors suggested, it replaces Camp Minnie-Mickey and moves the Festival of the Lion King to the Africa section of the park, those are both good things.

I am also not one who bangs my fist on the table over the very thought of Disney using someone else’s ideas for inspiration in the parks.  I never cried sacrilege when Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) turned to George Lucas or Jim Henson.  And the last time I checked Chevrolet, the Twilight Zone and Michael Jackson are not Disney products but all made for good attractions.

I must admit something to myself, my ideas for what I would like to see at DAK are probably not the kinds of things that would set the marketing world ablaze.  What I feel the park does best is bring us to the wildest corners of the world.  I would love it if we got a new “land”, like Australia or even North America, filled with wildlife exhibits and a couple of themed attractions.  While I think those things work best for me as a devoted fan, I realize they do not change the overall perception of the park, especially with tweens and teens, like a giant blockbuster film would.

But having said all of that, I was simply never excited about the idea.  And fans of DAK have been divided over the idea as well.  There is a park already devoted to taking advantage of box-office successes, and the Animal Kingdom is not it.  Expedition Everest proved to us that the park does not need James Cameron to make a splash and we would like to see more of that type of attraction in this park instead.

Like I said before, these rumors are unconfirmed, and anyone on Twitter can tell you many of these so-called “confirmed news” stories can tend to disappear into the dense wildernesses of 140-character posts seemingly overnight.  But things seem to fit together here.  Since the official announcement almost a year ago, stories of disharmony between Disney and Cameron, along with infighting within WDI over the project, have been an almost constant fixture within the rumor mill.  Disney will need to comment on this sooner rather than later.  And I am here to tell them that if they in fact confirm that Avatar is dead there will likely be more applause than groans.

by Dave McBride @davemcb1897

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