When Walt Disney Parks and Resorts announced a coalition with the juggernaut that is “Avatar” — director James Cameron’s 2009 “Pocahontas”-meets-aliens epic that remains the highest-grossing movie of all time — it seemed like a good fit.
Disney wanted to expand its Animal Kingdom park in Walt Disney World in Florida so that it could operate into the evening hours. (Most of Animal Kingdom closes at dusk in deference to the zoo animals, with just a recently added nighttime show, “Rivers of Light,” to keep guests there after dark.) Cameron, meanwhile, sought a way to keep his franchise alive to produce a number of sequels, with one timed to the launch of the theme park addition.
Both projects, however, became slow burns. Work on Pandora: the World of Avatar, began at the end of 2012 at Disney, while Cameron’s sequel, originally scheduled for 2014, was bumped to 2017, before being delayed again until December 2018. (And even that looks to be an overly ambitious premiere date.) In fact, five movies are being filmed concurrently, with the other release dates in the Decembers of 2020, 2021, 2024 and 2025.
Cynics then said that the ship had sailed on “Avatar” — that blue-skinned, yellow-eyed, 9-foot-tall Na’vi and their bioluminescent planet wouldn’t capture anyone’s attention. Disney fans countered that the company’s deep pockets and signature attention to detail could create a truly magical experience.
Well, Pandora: The World of Avatar finally opens to the public on Saturday, May 27, and it can now be revealed that the ayes have it: The first film’s alien landscape translates fantastically to a theme-park setting — sequel or no sequel.
In a feast for the eyes, Pandora is a blend of engineering, art and nature. Disney “imagineers” have created a 12-acre slice of another planet that’s both fantastical and realistic, with vine-draped floating islands in the sky, waterfalls and interactive imaginary flora that mingle…