Disney Previews Animal Kingdom's Pandora at the D23 Expo

August 14, 2015, 1:57 PM · Disney Parks is previewing two of its previously-announced major new attractions in its show floor pavilion at the D23 Expo in Anaheim this weekend — the Avatar-themed Pandora land that will open in Disney's Animal Kingdom in 2017 and Shanghai Disneyland, which slated to open in China next year.

On the way to Pandora

The Pandora exhibit reveals some of the backstory for the land. It appears we've moved well past the conflict of the Avatar movie, and Pandora's become a tourist destination rather than simply a mining site for the wonderfully/ridiculously named Unobtanium. Alpha Centauri Expeditions is the travel company that will be arranging trips to Pandora for Disney's Animal Kingdom visitors.

After watching a short promo video with testimonials from Pandora "visitors," including Imagineering's Joe Rohde, we are shown around the corner to see a scale model of the new land.

Pandora scale model

If you listened carefully to the video, or read one of our many previous posts on the new land, you might be able pick out the new "Soarin'"-style 3D Mountain Banshee ride building, or the entrance to the river ride.

The highlight of Pandora will be the massive floating mountains in the middle of the new land. The lighting on the model gradually shifts from day to night, and the video showed that the land will change in the evening, lighting up with bioluminescent flowers and other plants, some of which appear to interact with visitors.

Close up of Pandora

The video also promised unique themed food items for the new land, and there appears to be a large restaurant building located on the right side of the model. After viewing the Pandora model, Expo visitors get a photo opp with one of the Nav'i natives of Pandora.


(Update: Avatar director James Cameron came on stage at the Satuday afternoon Disney Parks presentation to offer more details about the new Avatar land, including its name. See more in our Disney Parks presentation coverage.)

And here is a look at the Shanghai Disneyland exhibition, courtesy Disney:

As for other new attraction news, we are hearing from sources confirmation of new roller coaster coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios as part of its makeover. We haven't seen the plans yet, but we suspect that this will be part of the expanded Pixar presence in the soon-to-be-former Hollywood Studios park.

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Replies (17)

August 14, 2015 at 2:09 PM · Even this is not making me happy for Avatarland. It will be interesting to see what happens if this next movie tanks - which I think it will. The first one made all that money b/c it was cutting edge. I just cannot see such a new and novel frontier for this next movie.
Still wish this was at least Star Wars and Radiator Springs.
August 14, 2015 at 2:36 PM · I'm hoping the new Coaster is part of the Star Wars stuff. Been wanting a coaster like Rock n Roller Coaster where you get in an X-wing or whatever and fly through space and music and lasers and all that. Imagine a coaster where you fly through the Death Star Trench Run. Only problem would be too similar to Aerosmith in same park.

Otherwise... don't really see how that Planet will fit in the park? And the floating continent too. Also, hope Mountain Banshee isn't just Soarin with a new video. Though my first thought for how to improve the Soaring formula would just make it a rip off of Harry Potter, with incorporating the dark ride segments with the Soaring videos...

Also, I agree that dedicating a fourth of a park to this IP is stupid. I know they needed something that could fit Animal Kingdom in some manner, but I'd rather have an Australia land or something instead.

August 14, 2015 at 3:02 PM · It looks amazing. If the finished product is half as good as the model the naysayers will clam up quick. Can't wait for this new land, or the three new movies Cameron has planned.
August 14, 2015 at 4:10 PM · "Avatar Tours" is so familiar sounding.

Another roller coaster? So they are out of ideas.

August 14, 2015 at 4:21 PM · They only have like seven coasters across four parks right now. WDW can use several more coasters IMHO. Granted, they need to be more than just steel and concrete, but there is nothing wrong with coasters. They are almost always the main headliners in any park.
August 14, 2015 at 5:42 PM · I'm one of the proponents of this land in Animal kingdom, but I am very underwhelmed by the model. The artwork showed promise but the model lacks imagination & looks like normal northeastern woodlands. Hope the real thing turns out more alien, imaginative & exciting.
August 14, 2015 at 5:43 PM · My dream coaster for DHS: an RMC hybrid themed to Indiana Jones.
August 14, 2015 at 6:08 PM · It's funny to me how the little blurb at the end about the DHS/DHA roller coaster is getting as much attention as the Avatarland stuff. I love Rockin Roller Coaster. I mean, it has three inversions, plays cool music - hey, it's better than the Celine Dion Coaster, right? And it's indoors, which is awesome for those hot and humid/rainy Florida days.

I can't wait to hear more about the coaster, and I think it being Pixar-themed will be perfect! Why? Because I'm scared to death (figuratively speaking) that the plan is just to copy Toy Story Playland. If they install an actual honest to goodness roller coaster in Disney's Hollywood Adventure that's say...Monsters Inc or Incredibles-themed, it'll really boost the park's attractiveness.

Star Wars will have a huge presence at the park, I have little doubt about that. A roller coaster doesn't really feel like a fit for me in that universe. Dark rides is really where they'll strike gold IMO.

Finally, as far as Avatarland goes, I actually think the model looks pretty awesome! For me, the key is those floating mountains. If they are tall enough and large enough, I think it'll be a big win, and people will be completely blown away. Nobody has ever seen anything like this, and I think Disney is really trying to push the envelope with this area of the park. It's no small feat to make a great looking land from a movie set in a world as beautiful and magical as....uh... Spotify, is it?

Anyway, I am super psyched about Avatarland, and the model doesn't put any kind of damper on my enthusiasm.

And that's coming from someone who hasn't even seen Avatar!!!

Then again, I haven't seen Frozen either. :p

August 14, 2015 at 6:39 PM · My questions about Pandora have to do with park hours. Animal Kingdom has always been the earliest closing park at Disney World. Does this mean it will stay open later or will only the Avatar area be open later? Also, the most interesting part about Pandora, visually and otherwise, is the nighttime bioluminescence effect. It gets dark at about 9 o'clock in the summer (granted earlier in the off season). This would only leave a couple of hours before closing for guests to enjoy these effects. Right?
August 14, 2015 at 8:32 PM · Darron I agree with you. This should have been put in DHS and something actually within the Parks theme should have been added: Austrailia, south America etc.

Funny that the storyline is awfully similar to star tours haha. I think they could've come up with something better than that!

As for the Pixar coaster...most likely it is Crushs coaster from Disneyland paris but we'll see!

August 14, 2015 at 7:02 PM · I don't believe that the success of DAK's 'Pandora: The Land of Avatar' is dependent upon any of the film sequels. The grandeur of this expansion with the mountains, canyons, landscaping and waterfalls will transcend the need for an airtight story.

Eveything we keep hearing about this expansion is full of win.

August 14, 2015 at 7:50 PM · I saw this model today at D23, I wasn't really impressed with the floating mountains.
The front area looks just like a park. The Imagineers were not 'Imagineers', they played their parts as tour guides of ACE.
August 14, 2015 at 7:55 PM · Disney already has announced a new night time show for DAK, so yes, the plan is for extended hours at the park.
August 14, 2015 at 8:45 PM · "This should have been put in DHS and something actually within the Parks theme should have been added: Austrailia, south America etc."

The trade will be Avatar and Rivers night show at DHS for Pixar Land and Fantasmic in Animal Kingdom. Does this make sense? DHS' plans are already predetermined well before the start of Avatar at Animal Kingdom.

August 15, 2015 at 7:13 AM · THC's right. If Disney can nail a rich, responsive environment - and the model suggests they will - the box office success of the sequels is probably irrelevant. So long as it's a fertile starting point for design, that's the key. Plenty of folks couldn't care less about Potter (myself included) but rush to the parks simply for what it's allowed Universal to build.

I'm totally neutral on Avatar, but Pandora looks stunning. That's more than enough to get me excited.

It's unlikely the new coaster will be Crush - at least not in the same form it exists in Paris. Capacity there is a big issue, and that's in a park with half the attendance figures of DHS. I'm hoping for a concept we've not yet heard about.

August 15, 2015 at 10:01 AM · I like Avatar. Even though it steals the plot from Dances With Wolves, it's still executed well and the cgi is still impressive, and I'm really excited to see how this land plays out.

The floating islands sound really cool, as does the bioluminescent (did I spell that right?) flowers lighting up at night. As for the fear that the motion simulator will be a Soarin clone, I would just like to say that if Universal can give Spider-Man a Transformers paint job and sell it as something new, then why can't Disney do the same?

As for the Rollercoaster, I'll accept it whether it's Star Wars or Pixar (provided, of course, that that they choose the right Pixar film).

August 17, 2015 at 7:20 AM · In terms of hours, as Robert noted, DAK has already announced a nighttime show, which would necessitate later operating hours. However, it's altogether possible that a number of areas within Pandora that feature the bio-luminescence effect may be interior locations that accentuate the effect, much in the way the Knockturn Alley at USF is an interior location within Diagon Alley. Remember, Joe Rohde has been spotted numerous times touring Diagon Alley, and it's very possible that he's "borrowing" some ideas from that in creating Pandora. I could see queue areas, and perhaps large expanses of Pandora contained under a dense canopy (inside a building) where the bio-luminescence effect would be far more exciting.

Personally, I'm a little disappointed in the conceit of Pandora as being a tour destination. It's an old, tired crutch that Imagineers could have steered away from in this development. Practically half of the attractions at WDW are some spin on the "tour" conceit. What's wrong with flinging guests onto Pandora as colonists or adventurers, or perhaps the overarching concept of Avatar as people sitting in a tube somewhere embodying Navii on Pandora? The tour idea is so tired and worn out.

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