Exploring Pandora

The fantastic fantasy world of Pandora from director James Cameron’s record-shattering and Oscar-winning film, “Avatar,” will soon come to life with Walt Disney World’s latest attraction.  “Pandora-The World of Avatar,” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on May 27 of this year.  The park spans two acres and will include multiple attractions, entertainment, audio-animatronics, and 3-D holograms as well as retail, food and beverage outlets.

The park’s backstory has been described as taking place a generation after the film, in which the Na’vi natives have made peace with Earth and are now partnered with an intergalactic tourism company to allow ecotours of Pandora.  Two rides have also been confirmed. The first ride, “Avatar- Flight of Passage,” is a flying augmented simulator attraction, available via Disney E-ticket, where guests will learn to fly with a Mountain Banshee from the film.  The other ride is more family-friendly; the “Na’vi River Journey” is an easygoing boat ride attraction that showcases Pandora’s flora and fauna.  Two restaurants, “Satu’li Canteen,” a full-service restaurant, and “Pongu Pongu,” a food and beverage stand, have likewise been confirmed.

A major visual feature the park will feature will be Pandora’s Valley of Mo’ara and its floating mountain ranges. The 156 foot (48 m)-tall mountains employ forced perspective to appear larger than they physically are, and are held aloft by steel beams concealed with rockwork and vinery.

The park’s confirmation and deal with Cameron, Lightstorm Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox, was announced in September 20, 2011.  Construction began in January, 2014. Originally planned for Hollywood Studios, then Disney World Chief Operating Manager, Tom Staggs, suggested the Animal Kingdom instead in order to bolster the park’s attraction roster.  The area was then constructed around the old “Camp Minnie-Mickey” attraction, which closed in 2014.

Director and producer Cameron and producer John Landau were both brought on as creative consultants while Imagineer, Joe Rohde, creative executive of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, served as creative director for the project.

In addition to adding details from the original film, the park also incorporates aspects of the four yet-to-be released sequels.

Both Cameron and Landau are pleased with how the park has come out and the decision to use Animal Kingdom.

“When people visit Pandora, the first thing that hits them is the scope. It’s a world,” Cameron said in a teaser commercial from this year’s Academy Awards, which included scenes of floating mountains, a family of four walking through the fictional environment and banshees in high-speed flight.

“It’s the only place where you can ride fly on a banshee. It’s a thrill. You’re going to plunge, you’re going to dive, you’re going to swoop,” Cameron said. “It’s like dreaming with your eyes wide open.”

Landau further stated, “Animal Kingdom is a place about the kind of realism that derives from those animals. We really want to live up to that state of realism to the detail, to the complete immersion, which is part of the signature of that park to the sense that these are events that are really happening to you – that it is your adventure. When we translate that into the world of Avatar it presents a whole new series of technical challenges because of the very nature of that world itself.”

The movie premiered in 2011 to box-office breaking records and is now the highest grossing film of all time, surpassing Cameron’s “Titanic” (1997)with $2.778 billion.  It was also nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three- Art Direction, Cinematography, and Visual Direction.

Jacob Kusnerik

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