Saturday, October 12, 2013

I Know What You Did Last Night

So, after midnight October 12th Disney Parks Blog unveiled the much awaited Avatar area concept art for Animal Kingdom.

The Avatar project has had a different lifecycle than most recent Disney projects. After the Disney Decade, WDI and Parks & Resorts has tended to err on the side of caution when it comes to new projects, announcing them when they're good and ready.

But Avatar isn't a Disney property. And what started as a quick meeting between Iger and Cameron turned into a quick deal with Fox Entertainment. And Fox, well, they needed positive news after a poor fiscal quarter. And thus, Disney was given the choice, you guys announce the partnership, or we will during our conference call.

Disney made the right choice, of course. But James Cameron is a hard master to work for/with, and the Avatar project was scoped, torn apart, rescoped, ignored, dropped, picked up again, and then approved over two years. To see how James Cameron works, read this article discussing the making of T2:3D by David Brennan. The project is developing much quicker than most large scale additions, simply because we're exposed to the sausage making.

Disney's announcement at Tokyo D23, while odd, was predicted by MiceAge. October 1st starts Disney's new fiscal year, and major new projects are officially green lit. The scope and scale of this addition has been set in stone for several months now, but now that the money has been acquired the real work can begin.

In the ideal world, Disney would have announced Avatar at D23 in Anaheim with much fan fare and information.

Boat Ride concept art.
The current Avatar project appears to offer two attractions, and indoor/outdoor dark boat ride through the ecosystem of Pandora, and a simulator like experience, dubbed Soarin' 2.0. The simulator E ticket has been shopped around to several companies for quotes, including several video game producers. If this means there will be interactive elements or not, I'm not quite sure yet.

 I'd pay attention to the musical plants and haptic feedback R&D Disney Research has done for hints at what the queue and and land will act and look like.

E Ticket simulator attraction concept art.
Avatar has been described as a bad movie, and that an attraction based on it will be bad. This complaint is also made about Universal's Transformers attractions. The common war cry of 'It's just screens! It's just like Spider-man! Transformers sucks!' echoes the 'The ride is amazing fun! It's more fast paced and like a battle! Transformers sucks but is interesting!' counter rallies. But a bad movie does not make a bad attraction, just as a bad movie doesn't make a bad video game (or vice versa).

And that's kind of where I am with Avatar. Avatar, is an ok movie. I do not remember character's names or intricate plot points. The real defining moments of that movie were the amazing 3D opening sequence and the huge tree falling down. This thought is echoed by others; people don't have the resonance with the story Cameron created. Instead this was the first 'must see 3D' movie of the Real3D era. People flocked to see the realistic world and 3D. This effect, in my opinion, also affected Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which made over $334 million domestically and $1 billion in total.

Avatar is worse than a bad movie, it's just flat. Yes the irony of the leading 3D movie of our generation 'being flat' was intended. What Avatar seems to feel like is a demo for TVs at Best Buy, beautiful sweeping panoramas with enough plot of string together the disparate elements.

Huh, kind of like Soarin'.

And maybe that CAN work for an attraction. World of Avatar should reject the characters, plot, and narrative and embrace the detailed landscaping and our reality projected into an alien world. Avatar can be Animal Kingdom's Tomorrowland, a Science Fiction world come to life. And like any good piece of science fiction, our world can shine through and expose the tales of preservation and nature better than a dead elephant or logging company.

Disney also officially announced two additional experiences for Animal Kingdom, a new nighttime show and a nighttime Kilimanjaro Safari tour.

Nighttime show.
River of Light, predicted by DisneyHipster's earlier this year, with the first hints from Jim Hill in 2007, will be a water pageant, parade, and light show around Discovery Island. As nighttime in Animal Kingdom is the most beautiful time for the park, this show will be a stunner. The scope sounds like to be somewhere around a parade and the castle projection show, not a World of Color or Illuminations scale production, even though it is supposed to feature 'water screens'.

Sehlinger, Bob. "Part 12 - Animal Kingdom." The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2007. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. 593. Print.
Last year Disney tested the nighttime safari tours for Animal Kingdom Lodge guests. $70 per person rented you a pair of night vision goggles and a tour of the Harambe Wildlife Preserve. This new experience is a surprise, so I do not have much information on it currently. A previous version of the night safaris, debuted in 1998, focused less on the animals and more on a dark ride aspect, with animal sounds, a new script, and special effects simulating eyes and animals in the brush.

What about opening dates?

Avatar is currently slated to open 2017, and I'd put $10 to say Oct-Dec 2017.

The Rivers of Light show and nighttime safari can open anytime between Avatar and now. I'm hoping for a summer 2014 launch for those shows, but Disney might push it to 2015, a huge mistake in my mind.

Avatar is still alive and well, with loads of new technology and experiences for guests.

Thanks to Ricky at Inside the Magic, here's a video of the model at D23 Japan.

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