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Avatar? Why Not . . . Something Else?

Friday, September 23, 2011

By now, most readers of this column will have had a couple days to absorb the news that Disney Parks has forged a strategic alliance with James Cameron and Fox Entertainment to bring AVATAR to Disney Parks, and that this partnership will begin with something (not clear yet what!) at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom. And for many of us, perhaps especially Studios fans, we're still working our way through the five stages of grief:

Denial: What? This is crazy, and it's got to be a rumor. This is simply too far outside the Disney brand. Plus, we're talking a hit movie here people, with two new sequels expected in the coming years . . . why isn't this coming to the Studios?

Anger: Noooo! This is too much in one week! I'm still reeling from the latest George Lucas Star Wars re-vamp, and now you expect me to accept AVATAR as a reasonabley addition to Animal Kingdom?

Bargaining: Okay, I can deal with this, I don't even spend much time at Animal Kingdom anyway. But Disney, if you're gonna do this, could you also pleeeeeeze fix the Disco Yeti? Enough with the strobe lights, let's get some audio-animatronic action going.

Depression: I've had enough. I'm turning off the Internet. I don't want to hear anything more about James Cameron and his blue hippies in my theme park. Just let me take a nap. Or sit down with a strong cuppa coffee at the Writers Stop.

Acceptance: There's nothing we can do to stop this. As a deeply ensconced Disney freak, I will somehow learn to live with Na'vi in the Jingle Jungle parade.

I think I'm still somewhere around "Bargaining," because all I can think of is a property already associated with Disney which I would have rather seen added to Animal Kingdom.  The Disney Parks blog tell us that AVATAR will be at Animal Kingdom because "Disney’s Animal Kingdom also celebrates adventure, living in harmony with nature and environmental stewardship – themes that are deeply rooted in the story of AVATAR." And while I understand Disney's probably trying to counter the Harry Potter Universal draw with something similarly au courant and flashy, especially given the upcoming AVATAR sequels, I'm not convinced that this will be as good a move in the long term as the Disney alliances that bring us Star Wars and Indiana Jones attractions. Or maybe that's just a hangover from my denial stage. Will the (presumably sizeable) investment necessary to lure Cameron and Fox into this agreement be justified by the ultimate increase in profits?

So what is it I'd rather Disney invest in for Animal Kingdom? I'd like to see a themed land in Disney's Animal Kingdom to represent the future, re-populated sustainable earth envisioned in the movie WALL-E. While one's first thoughts of WALL-E might be of the enormous trash heaps on earth, and the discarded Buy and Large merchandise everywhere, the film ends with a moving series of images behind the credits, showing the planet being reborn, with plants, animals, and people all living in balance together. Implied in the ending is that people can learn to care better for the earth, so one could easily infer that more sustainable practices will be put into place. A themed area could showcase sustainable practices and new technologies.

Meet-and-greets would be important in a WALL-E themed land, which would give Imagineering another opportunity to pursue the Living Character Initiative. Robotic WALL-E characters have already been created by Disney and fans alike. Disney's also been replicating the "Turtle Talk With Crush" format in a number of locations, with various characters (such as Stitch Live at Disneyland Paris), so it would be relatively straightforward to adapt this technology here as well, perhaps for a discussion with the captain of the ship Axiom.

One of the most beautiful scenes from WALL-E is the brief dance between WALL-E and EVE outside the Axiom, after they share a kiss. Surely Imagineering could create an attraction based on this scene. Perhaps an indoor roller coaster? Perhaps a family-friendly dark ride? 

Maybe by the time you're reading this, I hope I will have moved into the acceptance phase, and prepared myself to welcome our new blue overlords. But for now, I'm dreaming of a WALL-E themed land for Animal Kingdom. And y'know, I still think AVATAR makes more sense at the Studios. While I agree with Matt that Disney doesn't seem to think the Backlot Tour needs replacing, I'd be more than happy to see AVATAR move into that space. So Disney, if you're ready to bargain, I'm happy to talk terms here. You know where to reach me.