When Walt Disney World announced back in September 2011 that it was teaming up with James Cameron to produce a new theme park land based on his smash-hit Avatar movie, it was widely viewed as the resort's response to the runaway success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at nearby Universal Orlando. Housing it at the attraction-light Disney's Animal Kingdom would also enable to it to address one of the major criticisms of its eco-themed park - its lack of major rides.
Since Disney's initial announcement, Universal has raced forward with plans to build on its initial success with Potter. Not only is it cloning the original Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan, but it will also install a second, London-themed land at Universal Studios Florida. With Disney facing the prospect of losing a greater share of Florida vacation days to its arch-rival, it needs to get moving on major projects beyond the ongoing expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.
By many accounts, though, work on Avatar Land has not progressed smoothly. As recently as last month, it was reported that "creative differences" between Cameron and Disney's Imagineers were threatening to derail the project entirely. This strengthened rumors that a version of Disney California Adventure's Cars Land will be installed at Disney's Hollywood Studios. With much of the work of designing Cars Land having already been done, this would potentially enable Walt Disney World to debut a major new area in a shorter timeframe.
Things can move quickly in the theme park industry, though. Suddenly, with blueprints for Avatar Land attractions appearing online, the project appears to be back from the dead. Here's a round-up of 5 of the latest rumors about Disney's recreation of the fantasy world of Pandora.
1. James Cameron has given the go-ahead
The key sticking point on the Avatar Land project - the fall-out between Cameron and Disney - has been resolved, according to WDW1974 over at the WDWMagic Forums. The director is a renowned perfectionist and control-freak, and was reported to be holding out for a budget of around $500 million. This would have covered 3 major attractions, as well as extensive theming.
Disney, though, is said to have held out for a 20 percent cut in this budget. Despite Cameron's protests and, it is said, offers to help pay the difference, Disney appears to have won the day. If true, the project will therefore move forward with only 2 attractions, allowing a saving of around $100 million.
2. The headline attraction will be "Soarin 2.0"
The blueprints appear to refer to a major, "E-Ticket" attraction that will offer a simulated experience of flying over Pandora. Inevitably, this has led to comparisons with the existing Soarin' ride at Epcot, which uses a suspended, hang-glider-style ride system to take guests on a tour of California. Given Cameron's involvement, though, and the elements that are visible in the plans, it appears that the Avatar ride will at least attempt make some significant advances on the concept.
Image © Disney
The plans show four separate theaters, spread across 3 floors. The ride system itself remains something of a mystery, although there are rumors that it will support enhanced, more realistic movements than the existing Soarin' system. The video will seemingly be presented in 3D on a wrap-around screen, with the plans referencing a cleaning area for 3D glasses. This would, of course, be in keeping with the Avatar license, with the movie having made heavy use of 3D effects.
3. Guests will take a boat ride around Pandora
Housed partially on the ground floor of the same building that will host the flying attraction, and partially outside, will be a "C-Ticket" boat ride. Speculation suggests that Disney will employ advanced audio-animatronics to bring to life the inhabitants of Pandora as guests travel around the circuit.
This, at least, is what fans have read into the relatively small amount of information that has been leaked about Avatar Land's second attraction. At present, only a small portion of the ride is visible in the plans, showing how it overlaps with the headline attraction.
4. A motorbike coaster is off the menu - for now
It has been widely reported (frequently by Screamscape) that a Tron-themed motorbike coaster is on its way to the under-construction Shanghai Disneyland, and could even find its way to an updated Tomorrowland at the original Disneyland. The ride, it is claimed, will be based on Vekoma's existing Motorbike Launch Coaster design.
Image © Vekoma
So what was Disney planning on spending the additional $100 million that was initially earmarked for Avatar Land on? You guessed it - an Avatar-themed version of the motorbike coaster concept. Plans are believed to have been drawn up for the ride, with Cameron being supportive, and it remains to be seen whether they will be revived at a later stage.
It's worth remembering, of course, that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened with just one all-new attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It was, though, such a ground-breaking success that it was able to easily overshadow the two rethemed rides that accompanied it.
5. Disney is already signing up contractors
How did the Avatar plans leak into the wild? While there are rumors that Disney has deliberately distributed them in order to overshadow a major announcement by Universal Orlando on November 1, Stitch Kingdom speculates that a potential contractor or sponsor may be responsible.
On top of this, WDWMagic reports that long-time Disney contractor Zsolt Hormay has been brought into start to work on exterior rockwork and theming for Avatar Land. If true, this would back up claims that the project is finally starting to creep forward.
Reaction to the apparently leaked plans has been mixed, with some fans expressing excitement about the potential for the proposed attractions and others deriding the lack of a major roller coaster. Some are keen for Disney to move ahead with the Florida clone of Cars Land, instead, although there have been suggestions that both projects may be greenlighted as part of a major phase of capital spending for Walt Disney World.
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