Theme Park of the Day: Universal Studios Beijing

Vote of the week: Has Disney changed your mind about Avatar?

October 18, 2013, 5:48 PM · Typically, theme parks fans cheer when companies announce major new attractions. But Disney's Avatar project, now under development for Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, has divided the fan base. Not since California Adventure has a new Disney project under development angered so many potential fans.


Disney fans turned on California Adventure when they saw the underwhelming plans and heard rumors, later proven true, of meager budgets for underdeveloped attractions. But no one's suggested that Disney won't bust open Scrooge McDuck's bank vault for Avatar. It's the IP -- the characters and story of James Cameron's 3D movie -- that's made some Disney fans hostile to the project.

(And, might we suggest, it's almost always Disney fans? People who consider themselves theme park fans, rather than Disney fans foremost, seem to be more accepting of Avatar, at the least, taking a "let's wait and see" attitude.)

Disney's relative silence after its first announcement that it would develop the land din't help win over skeptics. An attraction line-up leaked earlier this year, but we didn't see any concept art for the project until last weekend, when Disney released several images during its D23 Expo in Japan.

Has that changed your opinion about Disney's Avatar? Is what you are hearing and seeing now about it causing you to reconsider what you've thought about this project? Are you looking forward to the 2017 debut of the world of Pandora with excitement or dread? Let's make this our Vote of the Week.

In the comments, please tell us which new theme park developments -- anywhere in the world -- most excite you, and how they would rank next to potential new theme park attractions you'd like to see, but that haven't happened yet.

Replies (36)

October 18, 2013 at 7:36 PM · Loved it before, still love it now. We're talking about a collaboration between some of the most imaginative people in the world. The possibilities for this expansion are endless. Disney's choice to invest in this project was brilliant. I am already planning and budgeting my 2017 excursion.
October 18, 2013 at 7:41 PM · I was more confused than anything. I wasn't sure how Disney was going to pull it off. I like the plans
October 18, 2013 at 8:20 PM · The plans look great (despite my concerns about all the MagicBand rumors), but I wonder how much of it we'll see. When the budget starts getting high, will they stay focused and not pull back? That's been the story with DAK so far.
October 18, 2013 at 8:37 PM · I'm not going to follow it too closely, and I doubt I'm going to be out there the first week, first month, first year, but I'll get around to going eventually.
October 18, 2013 at 8:45 PM · I wonder if pushing the opening date out to 2017 is a way of dispersing the projected budget out over an extended timeline so as to help absorb the huge investment it will take to build this land properly. It's already been two years of R&D with initial expenditures for construction taking place with regards to land prep and the removal and construction of a new home for the Lion King show. From this point going forward steam is about to pick up, but with a large expansion also looming for DHS with Star Wars Land being constructed in and around the same time, extending the projected opening date could be a way to money manage the project on a longer time line so they can minimize cutting as many corners as possible. Lets face it, a half hearted attempt at Avatar or Star Wars is to going to be an epic let down since both projects are automatically going to be compared to WWoHP the moment the first guests step foot in each land.
October 18, 2013 at 9:02 PM · I think Disney purists may be against the Avatar expansion because it is not Disney IP and the movie they are basing the new land on was very violent. I'm not sure Walt would approve if he were alive today.

I would personally take the wait and see attitude, but I think some of the concept art is impossible. Somehow, I don't think Disney is going to allow guests to roam around to touch millions of dollars worth of illuminating plants and will rely solely on RF for interaction.

Are there going to be handrails / barriers to keep people on paths? I just don't get that artwork they posted...

Can you imagine a group of 300 Brazilian teens, who typically have no consideration for other people or park property let loose to walk around Pandora and interact with the scenery?

The new 3D(?) ride has to be groundbreaking in order to win people over. Then again, Disney shies away from rides that are intense in favor of the "family" aspect.

Since you asked us to post what we are most excited to see, I think HP London at USF is at the top of most people's lists. Whether you love or hate USF, you have to admit, the people in charge have no problem signing checks.

October 18, 2013 at 9:44 PM · Speaking as someone originally lukewarm on Avatar, I have now gone to piqued interest. However, after the whole Antarctica debacle, I will remain in "wait and see" mode as I always do.
October 18, 2013 at 11:53 PM · Let's see when we see.
I'm sure they will create a wonderful environment, but the attractions would be underwhelming.
October 21, 2013 at 9:04 AM · It's not that I don't like the artwork, no one can deny it are nice pictures. But I see multiple problems.
First the rides. This park need many world class rides to get the park on the top of the must visit list and the 2 rides announced aren't that.
The ip is non Disney and the movies has no likable characters or story. Cameron is a gifted director but he can't write a compelling story.
Last thing is the return on investment. For Avatar being considered as a success for the Disney company is needs to do magic for AK and the Avatar part needs to generate a lot of extra revenue in food/drinks and souvenirs. I just don't see that happen. This has no signature drink (sure they'll try to push it in but no one will care) and no impulse for selling stuff except for light up stuff at night. Disney also needs to pay some money to Cameron from all money that is generated.
If this huge investment doesn't return as expected I'm afraid Disney will close the money tab again for AK. I'm not excited.
October 19, 2013 at 4:14 AM · The problem I have with Avatar Land is that the original movie proved itself as a money maker at the box office, but hasn't resonated quite as well with the general public. Everybody saw the movie, but nobody is talking about it any more. I would defy most people(outside of the geek elite - of which I'm one) to provide me the name of a character from the movie, other than, perhaps, the main hero.

By comparison, the Star Wars characters were household names by 1979, and have stayed as such for decades. Much like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, etc, etc,

If the sequels to the Avatar movie are huge hits, then the themed land will hold some long-term term investment value. But, does anybody remember the Matrix sequels? Two followups to an amazing, major, visually-game changing sci-fi movie hit, that did nothing but tarnish the memory of the original (for many).

Now, I have faith in James Cameron and his ability as a filmmaker. I just wouldn't have enough faith to invest a billion dollar theme park land on his future plans. I hope Disney's gamble pays off.

And, for the record "Jake Sully" is the main hero in Avatar...In case you were wondering.

October 19, 2013 at 4:53 AM · I am "exited."
October 19, 2013 at 6:03 AM · What I'm most looking forward to is probably WWOHP in LA. Being based in Australia, its unlikely I'd get to Florida anytime soon for diagon alley (although it looks awesome). LA is much more realistic in the short term, and I would probably wait until star wars land was built before venturing to the east coast again.

OT, I know we've butted heads before about this, but I truly believe you're short sighted regarding Disney. I completely agree that avatar doesn't offer a rich storyline to feed off, but the immersive environments indicated at by this artwork more than make up for that,and considering the theme of Animal Kingdom is more about nature and animal's, avatar fits well into this.

The 2 rides both have World class potential. The dark ride, whilst not necessarily a thrill ride shows such incredible environments in the artwork, when mixed with a reasonable narrative and some decent animatronics could be awesome.

The flyer ride, whilst potentially a little mundane using Soaring technology, could be incredible and "revolutionary" when using the Pandora, as has been strongly hinted towards.

As for a 'signature drink', whilst that has done extremely well in WWOHP, this is by no means a prerequisite for a successful land, Cars has done just fine without it. And the idea that merchandising would be be as problem for Disney I find unlikely.

Prior to this artwork I was skeptical of avatar, but seeing this artwork with James Cameron's obvious involvement, I am excited to one day visit the place.

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October 19, 2013 at 6:17 AM · I found the movie Avatar moronic but visually entertaining. As far as what Disney has released about what they plan to do with the intellectual property, I'm impressed. From what I've seen so far, I believe this will be a winner.

Hopefully, this will turn AK into a full day park, and I can finally plan a visit since I refuse to pay full price for what has been a half-day park.

October 19, 2013 at 6:25 AM · I am not a fan of Avatar at all and I am disappointed that Disney decided to go with another movie tie-in. I'm all for tie-ins to films at the studios but I am tired of Disney's philosophy of everything at every US Disney park being tied to a film instead of an original idea. I hold strong to thought that Disney really dropped the ball by not entertaining the idea of using this expansion for an original theme. Such a missed opportunity to bring the Society of Explorers and Adventures to US parks. I am fine with the StarWars expansion at the studios, that makes sense and if it will kill American Idol, I'm all for it. The fact that Cars Land probably will not make it to the east coast is also disappointing, but if they decide to go with StarWars as east coast exclusive and Cars as west coast exclusive, I'm ok with it.
As far as the concept art, it is beautiful, but it only reminds me of the fantasy creature aspect of the original concept for animal kingdom and how I feel that would have been a much better fit for the over all design of animal kingdom. As far as the rides, what, another Jungle Cruise?!? Avatar Park River Adventure?!? Please no Soarin' clone.
Now the only thing that I am excited about with this is that there is a potential that AK will stay open later due to the new night time show.
I'm sure after all is said and done, I won't hate the Avatar expansion, I just won't love it.
October 19, 2013 at 8:21 AM · I thought Avatar was a well made mediocre movie. I didn't think it warranted a theme park attraction.


I also thought Cars was a well made mediocre movie. I didn't think it warranted a theme park attraction. Cars Land at DCA is so freaking good it made me appreciate the movie more.

If Disney can pull that off again, I'll be happy to reap the benefits (but I'm still not sitting through that movie again).

October 19, 2013 at 12:22 PM · On the heels of everything that has been accomplished in the last several years in regards to immersive themed environments, from Harry Potter, to Cars and then New Fantasy Land, I have no doubt in my mind that this land will be a culmination of everything that has been learned from recent developments and blow the doors off of everything we have seen before. WDI has to be chomping at the bit to really let loose and earn back the respect and adoration of the fans who have been lamenting the fact that Disney hasn't given them anything truly ground breaking and awe inspiring in years on the East coast. Fantasy land was a nice first step in the right direction, but Avatar and Star Wars are 2 behemoth IP's that call for nothing less than spectacular experiences to be created.

Oh, and much like TH, I am "exited" as well ;o)

October 19, 2013 at 12:43 PM · I think this will at least be better than Camp Mickey. Camp Mickey was sort of a thing that was put there at the last minute. After all the land was supposed to be beastly kingdom. It should be a big improvement.
October 19, 2013 at 1:27 PM · This is great. The only dissapointment when they announced Avatar-Land was the lack of information on the project. Now we got something to see and talk about and it looks brilliant. As for the IP, are Disney fans expecting to see attractions on John Carter or Prince of Persia? Avatar is the most popular movie of all-time for a reason, people loved the film. You don't get to make 2 billion dollars at the box office unless you have great word-of-mouth and reviews. It was a critical(was a finalist for Best Picture Oscar) and commercial juggernaut.

October 19, 2013 at 1:30 PM · As for which attractions I'm looking forward too, Avatar ranks up there, but my most anticipated attraction is by far the Gringotts coaster opening up at USF.

Universal has done a superb job with their newest attractions such as HP and the Forbidden Journey, King Kong 360:3-D, and Transformers and that instills a lot of confidence in me that Gringotts will be beyond awesome.

I had never been more hyped for an attraction than I was for Transformers, and Universal exceeded my expectations.

October 19, 2013 at 2:26 PM · All of you guys complaining about Disney acquiring the rights to use IP's in their parks and to produce more movies instead of coming up with something original do realize that a vast majority of the "Disney Classics" are works created by other people that Disney acquired the rights to, so they could produce movies and use those IP's in the parks right? It's been a practice of this company to do so for the last 80+ years. Nobody is suggesting the original Avatar story will be retold in any of these attractions. So those literary geniuses here who have authored so many finely crafted, celebrated stories for all to consume, that take issue with the meager, paper thin story and cliched characters need not worry. The world of Avatar is a huge sandbox to play in, which will continue to expand over time as the sequel movies are produced in tandem with the construction of this land. There are many stories yet to be told and dreamt up, hell, some of them may actually be compelling enough to excite some of the nay sayers. A theme park attraction needs to only tell a story for 5-7 minutes mostly, sometimes longer depending on the ride system. I'm sure WDI and Lightstorm can craft something fascinating and exciting enough to hold the attention of people for that period of time.
October 19, 2013 at 2:45 PM · I have a feeling that almost everyone will love it once it actually opens. That is, if Disney lives up to what this concept art suggests. If the land truly is that fantastic and immersive, people won't care that it is based off Avatar, and will love it for what it is, an incredible land. Again, that is only if Disney goes all out and makes it amazing. Which I predict they will since it is taking so long and they are building up so much hype about it. Not to mention Joe Rohde is in charge, who generally does fantastic stuff like Expedition Everest (before the Yeti broke).
October 19, 2013 at 3:12 PM · Disney hasn't changed my mind. It reinforced it. I am glad for Avatar and I will continue to look forward to the project.

I don't know where some people think the budgeted minded executives will cut the Avatar project. We are way beyond the "accounteers" taking over the project. How is any budget cutting going to happen when Disney needs to satisfy James Cameron? Only when Disney debates with itself will such a thing happen such as with the Carsland project or the Star Wars project, but with Carsland, the advocate was John Lasserter, and with Star Wars, the advocate is Kathleen Kennedy, George Lucas' right hand man. These high profile projects will have to be done right or some heads will roll.

I already think the New Fantasyland was a huge mistake; however, I am not holding the results against it. The situation is completely different. That project wasn't owned by anyone who gave a damn, thus the results.

October 19, 2013 at 5:06 PM · I agree with everything Anon Mouse said, but....
I don't think New Fantasyland was a huge mistake. Sure it didn't have any huge ground breaking attractions, but it did its job. The enchanted forest section is beautifully themed, the Little Mermaid ride is good, not great, but good. And the Be our Guest restaurant is easily the best restaurant at the Magic Kingdom. And I predict that the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will also be a solid addition to the park.
Sure, New Fantasyland wasn't a great new addition, but I don't think it was a mistake. I definitely think New Fantasyland is a vast improvement to our old Fantasyland.
October 19, 2013 at 9:56 PM · I'm not excited for Harry Potter and future Jurassic Park attractions.

Sadly Universal only makes rides on popular properties, I wish they would embrace average movies with little plot or story like Disney.

I never realized how great Cars was until they took the Test Track ride and added eyes to the cars. Soarin plus blue monkeys will be freaking amazing.

October 20, 2013 at 4:35 AM · Anonymous Poster writes: "Sure, New Fantasyland wasn't a great new addition ..."

I Respond: Actually it was. Maybe not for every age or demographic. But ...

The "Disney officials say this (the Disney princesses) has now morphed into a $4 billion dollar industry that draws girls of prime princess age, three to eight years, and their families to the Disney parks and has helped propel a new Fantasyland renovation in the Magic Kingdom that will ultimately include more princess experiences."

Next time you are in NF stop for a moment, count the number of strollers and multiply by $1,000.

October 20, 2013 at 6:59 AM · You are right TH! The main thing I was trying to push was that it wasn't a mistake. I agree that for younger children this expansion is awesome! Some people assume that because it doesn't please the older age groups it's a failure. (It should also be noted, that the vast majority of people I have seen in New Fantasyland have loved it, including the parents)
October 21, 2013 at 12:15 AM · Avatar isn't a movie I feel like watching over and over again, but it was visually interesting. If they integrate RFID tech into this and the environment is interactive people could really love this area and it could be a huge draw. I still think Star Wars lands will make a lot more money and draw in a lot more people. There is a larger and much more dedicated fan base because the children who were awed by those movies are now adults and want to relive that childlike wonder which is why I think it is cool for Disney to have it in the parks. A lot of dedicated Star Wars fans don't care about Disney or are openly hostile, but I think they'll still visit the Star Wars lands so they are bringing in new people in by adding more Star Wars to the parks. I can't wait for Star Wars land!! I think adding the monsters inc area to DCA will be cute. My kids love those movies and the ride that is there now. It seems like there are never any people in that part of the park so it will be nice to have something fun there.
October 21, 2013 at 8:26 AM · The original New Fantasyland was more attractive to pre-teen girls. The fairy land portion that featured Tinkerbell was cut. The revised project was more catered to young boys with the dwarf coaster.

Either project wasn't doing the trick. I can't believe how they took a land of that size and made it small. Barely anything new, but plenty of restaurants, stores, and meet and greets.

October 21, 2013 at 9:26 AM · @Grant Crawford
You are wrong, Cars land has signature food, it are the cones they sell (or food in the shape of cones). They also have signature drinks that are served in the same cups as they do now at Test Track and the signature drink is also the stuff you buy in new fantasy land.

With the success of Harry Potter Disney has revisited it's food options and every new project has it's signature food (or redressed from other parks). Unfortunately they fail to live up to the success of Potter but I'm glad food is getting a second thought at the parks because the food at Disney has gone from ok to unbearable.

I don't see Avatar bringing in the food revenue that Disney needs to call it a success unlike Star Wars land where bars and dinners are part of the experience of the movies.

October 21, 2013 at 9:39 AM · My BIG problem is with the IP. The concept art looks good, but it's not that I didn't like Avatar, I HATED it or more accurately, I LOATHED it. I was rooting for the STUPID blue idiots to get killed during the final battle and I was hoping that the main character was going to get killed. MAYBE (and that's a BIG maybe) the sequels will be better, but I also thought the Matrix sequels would be good too.
Avatar was riding a fad when it came out. It was the first fully realized 3D movie. Now that other movies with fully realized 3D have come out, Avatar will pale in comparision. It's the same thing that happened with the VERY lame Twister (it was one of the first movies to use fully realized and realistic computer effects).
October 21, 2013 at 1:15 PM · Fundamentally, my confidence in the Avatar was bolstered by the extraordinary success of the New Fantasyland. It's remarkable how WDI took a land of that size and added so many new attractions. From Disney's signature character experiences to state-of-the-art attractions, to great restaurants and retail outlets, NF is a home run!

October 21, 2013 at 1:50 PM · ^^^^^
I wouldn't compare Twister to Avatar.

One, wasn't even the most successful film of it's calendar year, the other is the most successful film of all time....that's getting sequels.

For all the complaints that everyone has about Avatar, it still managed to do well critically AND it broke records when it was released on Blu Ray / DVD (so somebody, somewhere wanted to watch this at home again) and it's not like Disney has chosen something like John Carter of Mars.

I was always on board with Avatar, but would have been equally on board with something else.

It's an entirely a new themed land....regardless of the property, if it's done well, why is this a bad thing?

There's been plenty of instances where a theme park attraction has surpassed it's cinema counterpart....for those who despise the film, the land could surprise you (since personal expectations are already low :-)

October 24, 2013 at 1:51 PM · hi I love the lion king a lion king theme park will be a good idea four Disney word

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