The Na’vi just can’t win.
First, the initial announcement that James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar would be coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom was met with jeers from those who questioned the introduction of fantasy in a park dedicated to realism, along with those who groused about the tree hugging politics of the film and others who just didn’t think the intellectual property was a fit with Disney’s family friendly fare.
Then at the D23 Expo, the big reveal for Pandora-The World of Avatar was overshadowed by the hoopla surrounding the announcement of Star Wars-themed lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Overlook the 2017 opening of Animal Kingdom’s newest land if you will. I’m here to tell you why you should be excited enough to plan a trip around the debut of Pandora and why it won’t be the dud that some Disney fans suspect.
The key moment during the presentation by Imagineering legend Joe Rohde was when Cameron and his co-producer Jon Landau joined him on stage.
“The thing that impressed Jon and I so much when we first got introduced to the idea of this project is these guys are crazy. They’re crazier than us,” Cameron said, gesturing to Rohde. “I mean, we thought we were the most ambitious guys out there in terms of trying to do fantasy imagery and create an alternative universe, and we found out that their vision … so far exceeded our expectations.”
Cameron continued, “We always feel sometimes when we’re dealing with big corporations that we have to compromise and we’re trying to get up to a level of mediocrity. When we first heard the pitch of what they wanted to do, we were absolutely blown away.”
Now, for Cameron to say that the Disney team was crazier than his team is no small statement. If you know anything about Cameron, he takes crazy to a whole other level. Look no further than the documentary on the making of Cameron’s 1989 film The Abyss. You can view Under Pressure: Making The Abyss here on YouTube.
The Abyss, which primarily takes place in the deep ocean, still holds up a quarter century later thanks to the lengths Cameron went in the production. They used an unfinished South Carolina nuclear plant to construct the film’s sets in giant tanks, one of them 7.5 million gallons (by comparison, the tank at Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo and Friends is 5.7 million gallons). Cast and crew went through diving training. Special diving helmets to better see and hear the actors had to be engineered. To eliminate the reflection on the tanks’ surfaces, they floated a layer of plastic beads and covered the top with a huge tarp. When a storm gashed the tarp, they moved filming to nights. All along, Cameron would be underwater to direct his actors, spending hours afterward still underwater going through decompression to avoid getting the bends.
What you learn from this documentary is that when Cameron has a vision, he has an unyielding determination to see it through, even if it means driving himself and members of his cast near the breaking point. He’s also able to problem solve and find solutions where others see obstacles. Combine that resourcefulness with the Disney Imagineers’ attention to story and detail, and the results could very well be beyond anything that anyone has seen in a theme park.
“But I didn’t even like Avatar,” you say? Well who’s actually seen Song of the South? And yet Splash Mountain is one of Disney’s iconic attractions.
My guess is that when guests actually get a chance to walk in the world of Pandora created by the team of Cameron-Rohde, any doubts about the project will be erased. We’ll have an amazing addition to Animal Kingdom, one that will reveal different details during the day and night and erase any notion that it’s a “half-day park.”
And be honest, you really can’t wait to see how they’re going to make mountains float.