• Disney Parks will help 20th Century Fox market four future sequels through a must-see attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.
  • The cast and creators of the Avatar films spent time speaking to global media representatives to get the marketing message out to the world about Pandora: The World of Avatar.
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom attracts over 10,000 visitors a day and 10.9 million visitors a year, who will bring home Avatar merchandise to cities and towns around the globe.

Director James Cameron and many principals from the cast of Avatar, including Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Joel David Moore and Stephen Lang, made the trek to the planet of Pandora this week. More precisely, they jetted to Orlando, Florida to christen the realization of an alien world first conjured by Cameron at age 19. Pandora: The World of Avatar, officially opens on May 27 and is the largest expansion in the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.

The new 12-acre land offers 20th Century Fox a permanent promotional vehicle for Avatar, which will continue with four sequels that will roll out between December 2020 and December 2025. For Disney Parks, Avatar adds a must-see land for the youngest of the Walt Disney World parks. While the alien world itself is the main attraction, there are two rides located inside Pandora. Na’vi River Journey is a family-friendly boat ride through the bioluminescent world from the films featuring the most advanced audio-animatronic character (the Na’vi shaman) ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). The tranquil, and very dark, four-and-a-half-minute ride also features creatures from the film brought to life via cutting-edge technology.

“It started as dream images I had at 19 that I drew and painted, and eventually that turned into a story and that turned into a movie,” Cameron said. “Everything for the movie was created digitally—even though it looked real in the film. But now it’s been physically manifested, you can walk through it and smell it and even fly a banshee. It’s a pretty amazing place.”

Flight of Passage will be the most talked-about attraction in this new land, and Disney knows it. The queue line was designed to contain (and entertain) visitors for a five-hour wait. Before being connected with a banshee for a wild flight through the Valley of Mo’ara, visitors will come face-to-face with a life-sized Na’vi in an underground science lab once run by the RDA and now operated by Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE). Eight visitors per ante-room will sit on the back of a motorcycle-style seat, grasp the handles, and then “fly” through the world courtesy of 3D glasses, a giant screen and real effects like wind and water. The seat even pulsates to the rhythm of the banshee’s heartbeat.

At the conclusion of the Flight of Passage ride, guests exit through the gift shop, where they can order a customized $80 Na’vi action figure. That price includes a two-part immersive experience that begins with the customer sitting inside the Avatar Maker machine. A member of ACE serves as both guide and technician while doing a thumbprint collection and 180-degree head scan of the visitor before offering a tablet to choose from a variety of eye colors, facial markings and hair styles to personalize the Na’vi. All of this data is recorded on an ACE digital card, which is used once again 30 minutes later when a thumb scan reveals the human face and then the packaged Na’vi in a wall-based ACE machine (which is similar to a futuristic vending machine). This item is part of a huge line of merchandise designed exclusively for the theme park, which will promote the Avatar brand to visitors from around the globe.

Joe Rohde, Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive, told AListDaily that this Pandora story takes place a generation after the events in the original film (and the four sequels Cameron has written). This has opened up a peaceful setting for guests (who are on safari with ACE within the land’s fiction, as well as created a backdrop for conservation “call to action,” which is a theme at Animal Kingdom. There’s even a Pandora Conservation Initiative with cast members on hand throughout the world (in character) to explain the importance of things like water purification. This theme is also evident in the ride queue for Flight of Passage.

“It’s not the movie Avatar that we are portraying,” Rohde said. “It is the planet Pandora where you can come, you can visit, and have your own unique adventure. Rather than reliving the adventures of characters from the film, you’re going to come to the planet where those things happened—and have your own set of adventures you can own.”

In a departure from any other Disney “land,” there are no signs for the two rides inside Pandora. The fiction and queue lines blend in with the themed environment. That holds true for the bar, the Pongu Pongu Lounge, which features an old RDA mech vehicle from the battles featured in the original film. And also the quick service restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, which features sustainable fish and an assortment of “healthy” and customizable protein-based meals. Even the restrooms are set within the fiction of this evolved planet landscape. Spread throughout the land are cast members from the different factions living on the planet, including ex-Patriots who’ve fallen in love with the planet and relocated from Earth.

“I never thought I’d see the day when the Pandora I imagined could be made physically real,” Cameron said during the Opening Dedication. “Working with Disney to bring this world to life has been an amazing experience, and the result is something I think everyone will love for generations to come. It really feels like you’re stepping into a dream.”

Cameron and his Lightstorm Entertainment worked with WDI to create the fiction of this new story, as well as push the technology of the two rides forward. Rohde said Cameron would have been a great Imagineer given his love for engineering and tech.

“Anyone can visit Pandora in all its majesty. And when they do, they can learn about the Na’vi culture and all their values. The Na’vi have a spiritual connection with their world,” Cameron said. “Pandora and Disney’s Animal Kingdom both inspire us to understand and respect the natural world and our place in it.”

In keeping with that theme of restoration, Disney has created new ways for smartphone-equipped guests to help save animals on planet Earth. While waiting in line for Flight of Passage, guests can use Facebook Messenger and speak with a Pandora Conservation Initiative scientist to unlock a $5 donation that Disney will contribute to the Wildlife Habitat Restoration through a new Connect to Protect program. These interactions, as well as others inside Pandora, are expected to raise over $1 million this summer alone.

“I’m blown away (by this place),” Cameron said. “I never got to see the movie the first time because I’d seen every part of the movie 10,000 times during production. When I walk through here and go on the Flight of Passage, it’s like seeing it all for the first time.”