Disney breaks ground on Avatar at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom

January 10, 2014, 1:31 PM · Walt Disney World todaythis week officially broke ground on the new Avatar land for Disney's Animal Kingdom.

The last remnant of the old Camp Mickey-Minnie land closed last week with the removal of the Festival of the Lion King show, which eventually will move to a new theater in the park's Africa land. That cleared the way for the official start of construction for Pandora, which Disney will build on the old Camp Minnie-Mickey site.

Disney released concept art for Avatar last October at the D23 Japan event. We heard our first details about the land a year before that, and got a look at the blueprints for Avatar's movie ride a couple of months ago.

Disney first announced Avatar in 2011 and the first phase of the land is scheduled to open in 2017.

Kudos to Matthew Gottula for his inspired caption of this Disney hand-out photo: "Well this is awkward. The Na'vi fought against man's destruction of nature, and yet here is one holding two shovels."

Okay, doubters. It's Vote of the Week time!

What do you think? Are you excited for this project?

Replies (43)

January 10, 2014 at 1:57 PM · I don't see that Avatar Land was ever a matter of doubt. It was clear that the plans were in place to build the area since October.

I think the more important questions are the timeline of construction, and what kind of an impact this land will have once it is completed. Will people care about the Avatar brand as much as they care about Harry Potter or other popular characters? Attractions like Transformers and Waterworld prove that the origin material doesn't necessarily dictate the success of the attraction, but it seems like new rides are moving into the parks at a snails pace. Maybe the announcement should have come at a later date, once construction was well on its way to completion?

January 10, 2014 at 2:02 PM ·
Great any additions to AK - My favorite Disney park are more than welcomed...

January 10, 2014 at 2:41 PM · There is a saying when it comes to Disney parks you and all the old pros that theme park reports know. "I won't believe it it till the doors open". Remember how many things got started only to be halted or cancel all together. How long did it take for your beloved Disneyland subs stay empty for that new ride redo before Lasster saved them with his PIXAR band. Or thoese resorts at Disney World that until last year stayed unfinished for 12 years. Let's talk history here, remember Epcot Africa. A TV special, a sign, some clearance and what became of the land? So, until that ribbon is cut. I won't hold my breathe, Disney got a bad rep when it comes to building stuff.
January 10, 2014 at 2:55 PM · I swear, I thought this was some kind of April Fool's post. I know it is January 10th, but I honestly wondered if somewhere in the world they have an April Fool's kind of day on January 10th.

January 10, 2014 at 3:31 PM · Another poster above asked about Avatar as it compares to Potter. I don't think that's the same sort of thing, and it's kind of apples and oranges.

I think Potter compares to Star Wars better, in terms of a brand that people have a deep love for and buy all kinds of merchandise and things. Potter fans love Potter as much as Star Wars fans love Star Wars.

I think Avatar and Transformers are more similar, in that the movies were cool special effects to a lot of people and there's name recognition in the brands...but I don't think people LOVE either of them (at least not the Michael Bay Transformers movies, which fans of the Transformers cartoons in the 80s don't seem to be big fans of).

I think Avatar will make a spectacular attraction, just like Transformers made a fantastic attraction at Universal. Will people be saving up pennies and taking out loans to come down to see Avatar? I don't think so. Potter or Star Wars would cause fans to do anything to come down to be part of those experiences...but I think Avatar and Transformers are both things that make a trip to Orlando more enticing than before...but not a MUST GO NOW kind of thing.

Potter was a magnet like that for many people. If Disney ever had sense enough to build a Star Wars land, I think it would blow Potter away in terms of attendance. Why they don't do this is just beyond my comprehension.

Avatar will do what Disney wants it to do for AK though. It will add capacity and will also keep guests in the park at night, making it a full day park for all the people who thought it was a half day park in the past.

It will be a very spectacularly themed environment and will probably have some gorgeous effects. I think Disney will aim to make it more immersive and detailed than Diagon Alley/London. I think Avatar Land will look VERY expensive.

I'm looking forward to it. Even though I don't care very much about the Avatar movie.

January 10, 2014 at 3:46 PM · The only thing I continue to doubt is the cranial capacity of people opposed to this expansion.
January 10, 2014 at 3:51 PM · I still think this is an elaborate ruse. ;)
January 10, 2014 at 4:11 PM · I found it interesting how many times the Disney Parks Blog used the phrase "Avatar-inspired" instead of just "Avatar."
January 10, 2014 at 5:29 PM · I'm not opposed to park expansion, only choice of development. I for one am not a fan of Avatar, which might explain why many other people are not excited about it either. just another reason for me not to go to AK.
January 10, 2014 at 8:25 PM · I thought the movie was visually stunning, the story line just so so. I am excited for Disney to be doing ANYTHING at this point! Animal Kingdom is my favorite park to walk around without all the headache involved in just getting in the Magic Kingdom. I love riding EE at night. I love all the parks better at night. I hope the pull out all their MAGIC tricks for this project!
January 11, 2014 at 12:58 AM · They will pull out all of something, but
I'm guessing it will not be magic and will more than likely be the budget. Look how long the mine coaster is taking?! WHY?! Universal gets things up 3X as fast, with more pizzaz - I think Disney has been resting on their theme park laurels here in the US for too long.
January 11, 2014 at 2:23 AM · I believed they would build it.... but I did not think it would open anytime soon.... which makes it hard for me to get too excited about it right now.
January 11, 2014 at 7:28 AM · "I'm not opposed to park expansion, only choice of development. I for one am not a fan of Avatar, which might explain why many other people are not excited about it either. just another reason for me not to go to AK."

so you actually wont go to DAK because of this, are you serious? if you don't like it just skip that section....

by the way 28000 likes on the Disney parks blog as of this morning

people complain all the time about Disney not expanding then they break ground and you complain

January 11, 2014 at 10:25 AM · I really doubt that Disney can build this in three years and open in 2017. That is the Disney construction schedule for a kids roller coaster. When is the Mine train opening?

Universal will probably have Lord of the Rings built before this mickey mouse job gets done.

January 11, 2014 at 12:08 PM · Man, Disney is going to have to hire some really tall people to play Na'vi for their meet and greets
January 11, 2014 at 12:22 PM · I never doubted it, I just was never excited about it..
January 11, 2014 at 5:37 PM · Disney built Carsland in 3 years. They're more than capable. The mine train pace is an obvious play to garner some press in a year that will see Universal open up their huge Harry Potter expansion.

Another thing to remember is that the Mine train is being built right in the middle of an active land where guest are all around. Avatar land is completely cut off from the crowds at AK, so if Disney chooses, they can build out the whole land at a very fast pace and don't have to worry about being encumbered by guests swarming the area, or construction vehicles and equipment creating poor show.

January 11, 2014 at 10:02 PM · •How do you put another "tree of life" at AK?
•Avatar was 4 years ago and not a movie anyone talks about - at least NO ONE I know - except to say it's the equivalent of "Alien Pocahontas"!
• don't care
• don't care
• don't care
January 11, 2014 at 10:20 PM · No doubt, but wondering how much longer. Slightly more concerned after Iger halted work on other major projects. I'm glad the project is moving forward. Wondering if we goal of 2 phases will still continue. Iger may not last much longer as CEO (gone in 2016?)
January 12, 2014 at 9:58 AM · Sometimes building nothing at all is better than building something big, expansive, and expensive.

I'm still upset with the Tron overlay of Test Track. They spent a lot of good money on a bad project, in my opinion. The old Test Track only needed updated videos and some modern touches in graphics, paint, and detailing. It could have been better, and a lot less expensive.

I think the mine train roller coaster is going to be an amazing project and will bring New Fantasyland together once completed. It will really look great, and will be a huge crowd-pleaser, although I really wish N.F would have been built all at once, instead of in stages. Sometimes I just don't understand Disney's thinking.

As for Avatar, I think it's going to be interesting. Avatar isn't based on best-selling books with hordes of ravenous fans as Harry Potter is. It isn't based on an 80s cartoon and 2000s movies with 30 years of history as Transformers is. It's completely new. I am a little worried as a Disney fan that they are putting so much money and effort into something that people may not ultimately care about.

Hopefully it will be a fun land with great design and an immersive environment that really helps make Animal Kingdom a place people have at the front of their mind when they think about Walt Disney World.

I am skeptical.

Kudos to Disney for taking this step and investing in AK, but a lot of times lately, I am perplexed (to say the least) with the actual decisions being made.

January 12, 2014 at 2:47 PM · I'm exited about this avatar land i think it's gonna be a beautiful unique land and people will go people will always go for something new and with all the advertisements your gonna get a lot of tourist that know nothing about theme parks loving this land
Now the thing I'm concern the most it's the rides. I don't know if I'm right but I heard the main avatar ride it's going to be something like soarin and a boat ride? What Disney come on I know u can do better than a simulator and a boat ride I don't know let's just see what the results are.
January 12, 2014 at 3:31 PM · I'm afraid that I am going to go along with a lot of what others have commented and say that while the additional development is welcome, I do not think it will have the fanbase and pulling power that a franchise like Harry Potter has. Saying that - if it is a high quality development then, as word spreads, it will attract growing numbers of people.
January 12, 2014 at 4:01 PM · I saw two different "blue shovel" photos and the Navi is in different poses. It doesn't look like a person is in a Navi costume, so I wonder what it is. Either a huge pose-able stop-motion action figure or an animatronic. I'm guessing pose-able action figure. Which explains why it wasn't a live invited guest publicity event.
January 12, 2014 at 8:56 PM · "Sometimes building nothing at all is better than building something big, expansive, and expensive."

Really? Seriously?

What's it to you? You wrote the general interest in Avatar in the third person, but I think you're speaking for yourself like others here. YOU don't care for it and you think others think like you do.

As for the Harry Potter example, Avatar isn't the Harry Potter killer. Actually I think Star Wars is it with the similar rabid fan base of Harry Potter. You're comparing Avatar with the wrong property.

Avatar fulfills a different objective. It fits better with Animal Kingdom. It is BIG with regard to any other IP including that of Disney in AK. And there isn't much to do there especially in the evenings. It fixes many issues with the park. So you still think they should do nothing in AK?

So its just Avatar? We got to stop kicking the can further down the road. Avatar works. There are no other alternatives considered.

I should mention Avatar was more successful in foreign markets especially in Asia. WDW already attracts a tourist market. This is the case where Disney's decision is about the audience that isn't YOU. It is quite ironic considering that Disney fans are not its target audience. Didn't this approach work for Harry Potter who are not Universal or theme park fans? Now, even Disney fans are considering Universal vacations. Disney will tap other fans that never considered visiting Animal Kingdom.

January 12, 2014 at 8:49 PM · Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning (looking at you, AnonMouse).

My point was that there is only so much money to go around. Why put such a large amount of capital into this project when there are other options? Spending money just to spend money is not going to get you very far.

In Animal Kingdom for instance, that entire Dino-land could and should be scrapped, in my opinion. It's not like Camp Minnie-MIckey has a lot of upkeep costs involved, and it's a cute place for the little kids to hang out and get pictures with Mickey in his safari gear. Camp Minnie-Mickey never hurt anyone. No, it's probably not a big revenue machine for Disney, but better opportunities than Avatar are surely going to come around.

Save your money Disney. Use it on a revamp of Dino-Land and actually making Hollywood Studios a park you can enjoy for an entire day. I'd rather see the Backlot Tour replaced with an expansion of Pixar Place, and a beefed up Star Wars Land, personally.

Yes, personally. My opinion.

Avatar could fail to grab the attention of the masses, and could go downhill, similar to the Matrix movies. And if that happens, you're left with this huge land that cost a fortune to build, where people will walk around thinking "Oh, I think I remember this movie."

Money doesn't grow on trees, and I am of the opinion that this will be a regrettable decision.

I hope you have a good day, and a better tomorrow, AnonMouse.

January 12, 2014 at 9:15 PM · Dino land should be fixed, but this suggests the lowering of ambition. I don't get this saving bug as if the guests deserve less. SAVE. Okay. Admission is still over $90 to get in. Its not like you transfer money from one project to another. Why deemphasize Animal Kingdom for Hollywood Studios when the rumors were both parks will get high profile makeovers and not cheap bandaids.

Gab, the fans gets what they deserve. Thanks.

January 13, 2014 at 1:25 AM · I'm still puzzled about why Disney chose Avatar. Yes the movie made a ton of money because of it's novel 3D effect but it didn't present any staying power.
Disney oozes with viable franchises that, when investing 500 million dollar would result in more revenue then the Avatar IP.
Take villains. People are asking Disney for years to do something with them. If Disney decides to do a villains show the Studio park is filled to the brim.
Disney has the Star War theme park rights for many many years but never ever tapped it's potential in the way Universal did with Potter. Yes I lost confidence in Disney understanding it's customers.

I'm sure Avatar land will look nice, people will stay until the evening to watch the show (if it's any good) and animal activists will ask Disney why they shine lights in the eyes of the animals at the safari. Surely Disney will sell a ton light up toys extra but I don't see it go beyond that.

AK is a beautiful park but guests don't care. They don't want to soak up the atmosphere and search for the animals they want to be spoon-fed rides. In that respect the park is broken. Rides are mostly to short and less impressive than their queue's. No Avatar land can fix that in my humble opinion. If Disney was building rides as much and as frequent as Universal I'm sure less people would have a problem with Avatar but now it seems we need to wait years and years before Disney will start to build something guests will actually get excited about (and wait another 5 years for it to be ready). With my bad health I probably won't be around at the time Star Wars land will be the reason to visit WDW once more again...

January 13, 2014 at 8:51 AM · "I'm still puzzled about why Disney chose Avatar"

Theme park ride technology, theme, popularity, James Cameron, massive box office, foreign tourist market.

"We believe Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a great fit for this project because it was created to give guests the opportunity to experience the worlds of animals and nature – real and mythical – in new ways. Disney’s Animal Kingdom also celebrates adventure, living in harmony with nature and environmental stewardship – themes that are deeply rooted in the story of AVATAR."


Harry Potter is often cited as a success, but don't forget that Disney passed on it and Disney fans acknowledge that Disney would have screwed it up. I am sure Disney might have if Eisner was in charge. I am more confident of Iger.

Another thing, why is Universal given a pass with Transformers? That movie franchise is just horrible.

Even for hating on Avatar, it isn't the end of the world. The end of the world is more DVC, dining, and Fastpass+ without any new attractions to visit.

"Disney has the Star War theme park rights for many many years but never ever tapped it's potential in the way Universal did with Potter."

Buying Star Wars don't count? Remember, Eisner left the building. Iger bought Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and look what happened. Star Tours II opened, which was long stalled by Eisner who couldn't work with Lucas anymore.

I think the Star Wars Project is not yet ready, which is why you don't hear anything about it. Give it more time.

Another thing to acknowledge is Disney may very well go forward with Indiana Jones with the purchase of LucasFilms. If I can make a prediction, they can swap out the Dinosaur theme in Animal Kingdom for Indiana Jones and remake the land as South America. Then Disney will release the latest Indiana Jones movie as a reboot since Harrison Ford is much too old.

January 13, 2014 at 8:26 AM · Most of these comments sound like the naysayers when the movie opened... it's gonna flop, etc. then it became the highest grossing film ever (not adjusted for inflation.) I would just say don't underestimate James Cameron. There are three further sequels planned; it will become a huge franchise like HP and SW.
January 13, 2014 at 11:27 AM · I want to echo a comment above that "Disney would have screwed up Harry Potter". I really love Disney, but I think Disney would have really messed up Harry Potter. I saw an article somewhere that Disney actually had the chance to publish the Harry Potter books, too, but that a Disney executive (a woman, I forget her name) passed up on it so it went to Scholastic.

I think Disney would not have gotten the tone of Potter right and the movies and everything would have looked so much different if Disney, not Warner Bros. was involved. I also think that Universal was the right place for Potter. I don't see Disney as ever wanting to really do a whole Potter land and I doubt they would have made a big Hogwart's castle. So this all worked out for the best.

I also think that Disney would have insisted on American actors for all the parts. Harry Potter would have been played by someone like Haley Joel Osment and Hermione would have been changed to a Latina and given to Selena Gomez. All the professors would have been played by people like Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy or Bette Midler or someone. It would have been awful.

January 13, 2014 at 3:48 PM · "Another thing, why is Universal given a pass with Transformers?"

Because it's ONE ride, not an entire land of multiple rides/shows/etc.

January 13, 2014 at 4:51 PM · I saw an article somewhere that said J.K. Rowling really wanted Disney to publish her books and make her movies. I read another article somewhere that said J.K. Rowling wanted Eddie Murphy and Bette Midler and Robin Williams to be in the movies. And then there was another article I read that said J.K. Rowling really wanted Disney to build her theme park ride. But Disney decided to turn her down every single time.

It was all in these articles ... that I saw ... somewhere.

January 13, 2014 at 5:41 PM · I never understood the backlash against the very idea of an Avatar or Pandora Land at AK. That movie is a natural to be adapted to a theme park, with its beautiful, exotic landscapes, dramatic scenes and otherwordly creatures. As for the movie itself, it's only the biggest box office smash of all time. There is a huge built in audience, even if some people only liked the visuals. By the way, Cars is hardly the most beloved of Pixar movies, but Cars Land is a smash hit over in California.

Unlike some, I never make judgements about something until I've experienced it myself (i.e. in person, not by watching a YouTube video). I will only say that the concept art looks very promising, so there is no reason to condemn the project years before it even opens. I love the fact that Animal Kingdom is getting a much needed new land!

P.S.: Does anyone know how much money Disney is investing in this project?

January 13, 2014 at 5:41 PM · Note to Sylvain: I also don't think that the critics realize how much Walt Disney World attracts an international clientele. Avatar's success was outside of the U.S. ($2 billion). WDW plays to the international visitors much more than DLR does.
January 13, 2014 at 5:45 PM · I found it interesting when I went back to posts made on this site a few years ago on the announcement of Cars Land.
Nearly everyone on this site were skeptics. Many guessed it would be a failure. Many questioned why they would ever pick Cars for an entire land. So many people thought it was a huge waste of time.
Now however, people rave about and love cars land. People say the Racers ride is one of their favorite attractions and people say the land is fantastic. What is my point?
My point is is that the same thing is liable to happen here. You will condemn the project, hate the movie, hate the idea, but when it opens? You will all love and rave about Avatar Land. And everything said here will be taken back.
Is that for sure going to happen? Of course not, but you shouldn't judge the land solely based off the movie. Judge the land based off...well.. the land. Transformers is another example of bad movie turned great attraction. Bad movie can still equal great land. While a good movie can equal a bad attraction.
January 13, 2014 at 6:27 PM · People wont care if they like the movie avatar or not once non theme park fans that just go to theme parks just for vacation and what ever so the land im sure disney its going to make a beutiful land people will love it, us theme park fans will love it.
Now what im concerned its the rides. I mean a 3d movie ride and a boat ride? Really disney like i dont know they could have done something way better man.
Im exited about the land and i wanna ride the rides but i think the attractions might dissapoint me i dont know lets just wait and see.
September 25, 2014 at 6:04 PM · "it's only the biggest box office smash of all time"
and Yet no one in the public seem to care about Avatar.

"Why People Don't Care About Avatar"

have you quoted Avatar recently?

January 14, 2014 at 9:55 AM · Did we quote Doctor Zhivago recently?

Avatar (#14) was compared with The Dark Knight (#29).

The author blamed 3D. So if not watched in 3D, people don't care?

We don't dress up as the blue Na'vi. Is that proof? It's not like people haven't dress up as Na'vi, which is easily verified.

Again, we should continue to emphasize. Avatar is quite popular in foreign markets.

I should also mention that Batman is quite popular in a very narrow market segment. Batman is bigger than one series. It survived the George Clooney version.

January 14, 2014 at 11:15 AM · Slate.com can say what they want, but are you willing to bet that the sequels won't make billions at the box office? If so, I'll take that action...

Which raises another point: the sequels will start appearing about the same time that the land will be open and brand new. That's guaranteed to create synergistic interest in Avatar Land.

By the way, most movies make about 2/3 of their money in the foreign market. Avatar still grossed $760 million in the domestic market. In recent memory, only The Avengers had comparable success.

January 14, 2014 at 2:57 PM · Also for once can we have a more balanced article like say whats wrong with universal parks.... this site is constantly bashing disney with its articles. So let me start the ball rolling

IOA is a one trick pony with Harry Potter, Cartoon Lagoon skip it every time, Marvel land has some good rides but is a concrete jungle looks ugly, Jurassic park is so run down

US ET revamp or get rid, Twister.... the comments field is not big enough, Rip ride rocket great ride but what is it doing in universal studios doesnt fit in, Mummy is great and the disaster ride had a good face lift , but really did u had to get rid of jaws, bring back Kong, make use of the classic and colourful monsters genere of universal...

Disney markets its self as a holiday / vacation destination. Universal doesnt, its a good park for a day and half.

January 15, 2014 at 12:23 AM · the point of the article is to examine Avatar cultural inpact. in its afterlife i seen only one parody of it, on Robot Chicken

there are those in the entertainment industry who have whispered that the main reason the original AVATAR did as well as it did at the box office back in 2009 was because it was the first Hollywood film to skillfully mix CG & 3D. Which -- given the dozens of major motion pictures which are released annually in the 3D format these days -- clearly won't be the case when the first AVATAR sequel rolls into theaters in December of 2016

yes The film had a positive reception, but so did Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth Star Trek film. When it was first released in 1998,it had pretty positive reviews, with some reviewers even saying that it broke the Star Trek Movie Curse (even-numbered movies good, odd-numbered bad). But as time passed, with more viewers agreeing with the villains, and the whole Trek franchise gradually grinding to a standstill by the mid-2000s, it's now regarded as one of the weakest Trek films.

Yes it may be the highest-grossing film of all time.
but the cultural inpact of lower-grossing films like The Dark Knight, Terminator 2, Aliens, and The Wizard of Oz
overshadow Avatar in popular cultural.

January 15, 2014 at 1:25 AM · I don't mean to be rude but it seems a bit to riskey to build a land based on one film, right before it's sequel's

Even Harry Potter didn't get a land until the 5th movie.

i'm not saying the land will be horrible, the land looks pritty cool< is just seems a odd risk for Disney to do.

January 16, 2014 at 5:51 AM · Why would Avatar be regarded as a risk? It is already the highest grossing film in recent memory. Regardless if the sequels tank, which is unlikely and look at James Cameron's record, the film is already a classic.

No one has said the film is inherently bad. People say things that have nothing to do with a film's longevity. Merchandising: What does that prove? You want kids to buy more toys. Some of the best films have little merchandising opportunity. I haven't seen much demand for Hobbit stuff. They are on the shelf for sure.

If people have moved on from Avatar, I guess we just have to prove them wrong yet again. Nonetheless, Avatarland poses no risk as a failed attraction since you really can't beat the attractiveness of Pandora. A properly designed land will be an attraction independent of the film. Carsland in DCA is never going away even as it is a weak film, and people can care less about Cars 3.

Who can argue we need Cars 3 or Carsland must be dismantled?

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