It's more official than ever, and better than you thought. Over two years ago, Disney announced with no concept art, concrete plans, or detailed descriptions that they had secured the rights to bring James Cameron's Avatar film to life in their theme parks worldwide. Their first project would be an entire themed "land" dedicated to the film at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Almost immediately, fans lobbied against the idea, calling Avatar a poor fit for the park, a flavor-of-the-week film that would never stay relevant in pop culture, and a lame attempt at combatting nearby Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Now, more than two years after their announcement, the Walt Disney Company has finally shared concrete plans of what to expect when PANDORA - The World of Avatar opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom in 2016 (coinciding with the release of the film's first sequel). The announcement was made at D23 Japan - the first Japanese version of the company's popular biannual expo. To the surprise of many Disney fans, the plans don't look half bad.
PANDORA will be a massive land - more or less on the same scale as Disney California Adventure's new Cars Land - and will be anchored by a very impressive looking "floating mountain" centerpiece that may rival the park's existing Tree of Life icon in terms of scale. The entire land will replicate the dense, alien forests of the planet Pandora from the film. Paths will be scattered along twisting gigantic roots, exotic flora, and perhaps an appearance or two from local creatures as guests make their way to the mountain in the distance.
According to the press release, we can expect two main attractions in Pandora when it opens - the first will replicate a flight over the massive and mystifying terrain of the planet, no doubt encountering flying creatures and hovering landscapes. Early reports signaled that this attraction would use technology similar to Epcot / Disney California Adventure's "Soarin'" rides.
The second attraction will be a water-based dark ride through the planet's beautiful jungles at night, when bioluminescent plants begin to glow. This boat ride will be only the second dark ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom (after the fast-paced, thrilling DINOSAUR) and will offer a much-needed family ride to the park's roster as well. Doubtlessly, the land will also be marked by exclusive "only-available-here" food, beverage, and souvenir opportunies just like the Wizarding World and Cars Land.
To coincide with the opening of Pandora, Disney's Animal Kingdom will permanently alter its park hours to stay open late. As it is, the park closes in the early evening (well before any of the resort's other three theme parks) since its main draw - the animals - have strict dining and sleeping schedules that begin long before sunset. Replicating the most impressive of the visually-stunning film's scenes, Pandora will come alive at night as every tree, plant, stream, and even path glows with supernatural, alien bioluminescent colors.
The lengthened park hours necessitate changes to the rest of the park, as well. So as not to leave visitors in the dark, the park's central icon, the Tree of Life, will come alive in its own glowing, flickering, magical canopy as part of a brand new nighttime show (which, of course, the park has never had). That show will also include water screens with projections (similar to Disney California Adventure's World of Color) on Discovery River, which encircles the tree. The rest of the park, too, will be illuminated by floating lanterns, and a special nighttime version of Kilimanjaro Safaris will occur each night.
Pandora will occupy the area currently known as Camp Minnie-Mickey at Disney's Animal Kingdom. One of the original six lands at the park, Camp Minnie-Mickey was originally planned a temporary placeholder until the parks Phase II expansion, during which the "camp" would make way for a land based on ancient mythological creatures called Beastly Kingdom. Phase II never occured, and Camp Minnie-Mickey remained. The only attraction in Camp Minnie-Mickey, the exceptionally popular Festival of the Lion King show, will be relocated to a brand new theatre in the park's Africa section as construction on Pandora begins.
Expect to hear more on Pandora - The World of Avatar as we learn more. You can always keep up to date using our New Attraction Watch section and via our Twitter and Google+ pages where we share the news right as it occurs.