Joe Rohde: Why 'Avatar' fits in Disney's Animal Kingdom

February 21, 2017, 11:45 PM · Walt Disney World's most ambitious themed land to date opens this spring, with the debut of Pandora - The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom on May 27. To promote the new land, creative director Joe Rohde is talking about the inspiration for putting this franchise in Animal Kingdom, and why the marriage of the highest-grossing film of all time with Disney's most "non-fiction" theme park makes sense.

In the two-and-a-half-minute video, Rohde talks about the mission of Disney's Animal Kingdom, for which he was one of Disney's creative leaders back when the company was developing the park in the 1990s.

"If you think about the intrinsic value of nature, transformation through adventure, and personal call to action — these are the value of Animal Kingdom," Rohde said. "But if you say them again, those are the themes of the film Avatar. So Avatar and Animal Kingdom will nest into each other very, very neatly."

In addition to creating an immersive practical environment for the moon of Pandora, which was depicted through digital animation in James Cameron's 2009 film, Avatar, the new land will offer two attractions for visitors: Flight of Passage, a Soarin'-style flying theater attraction where visitors will fly on mountain banshees, and Na'vi River Journey, an indoor boat ride through a bioluminescent forest, complete with a Na'vi animatronic.

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Replies (54)

February 21, 2017 at 11:51 PM · If you have to roll out your designer as an apologist for the project then you are in trouble. I'm sure the land will be nice, but the movie it's based on was medorcre and when I ever mention Avatarland to non-Disney fans I just get quisical looks and statements like "why would they do that"?
February 22, 2017 at 12:18 AM · Still a shame they're dedicating 25% of the park for the foreseeable future to this... would have preferred an Australia or beastly kingdom
February 22, 2017 at 1:16 AM · The area development with the canyon walls and floating mountains is magnificent. Pandora was, without question a wise decision. It will be a gate crasher.

February 22, 2017 at 1:52 AM · @ I don't see any 'trouble' here. I see a top-quality immersive land with cutting-edge attractions that is going to blow the minds of visitors. All, that is,apart from a handful of Disney-haters who are already convinced it will be terrible. Never mind. Their loss.

February 22, 2017 at 3:55 AM · My 13 y/o ... what's Avatar? That's a big hurdle to overcome right there. No doubt it will be a huge draw and very immersive, though.
February 23, 2017 at 1:31 AM · Whilst I appreciate the 'What's Avatar' questions I'd point to the success of many attractions that don't have a film franchise to build on. Frankly 'Cars' has hardly set the world alight and yet if the land is immersive enough and the attractions of sufficient quality frankly the IP doesn't matter at all. A good land will draw the crowds regardless of whether people recognise the source-material or not.
February 22, 2017 at 4:10 AM · I'm sure it will look nice, although non of the images of that area impresses me except for the AA. But the concept art of beastly kingdom I have seen in my AK book are more of a homerun and would have been cheaper for Disney regarding the use of an ip they don't own and I think the Disney crowd would have been much happier. I'm also concerned the soarin screen ride and the real world will clash in a big way.
February 22, 2017 at 4:25 AM · Avatarland is an excellent fit for Animal Kingdom. The IP has a very heavy focus on nature and environmental issues. Plus, there was always a fantastic element to Animal Kingdom (see Beastly Kingdom) and Avatarland is finally going to fill this spot.

And if you do not like the IP, just treat it as an excellent original land. You do not need an IP to create a fantastic attraction or land (see Splash Mountain, POTC and to some extent Carsland). Judging from the pictures, Avatarland will be one of the visually most impressive lands that Disney has ever built. As long as the attractions deliver, it will be a big hit.

February 22, 2017 at 4:41 AM · "Welcome to a kingdom of animals real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn." — Michael Eisner, at DAK's dedication back in April of 1998.

Pandora is a natural fit in DAK requiring no further explanation - but I enjoyed the interview nonetheless. Rohde must be fired up to be finally putting the finishing touches on the park he started building back in the early 90's - and hopefully he is looking forward to doing something about that broken down Yeti next!

Personally, I've been excited to visit the world of Avatar since Disney announced the expansion years ago. I won't deny that I loved the movie when I saw it a half dozen times on the big screen, and I am very much looking forward to loving the new land at DAK (and the film sequels). CANNOT WAIT!

February 22, 2017 at 4:48 AM · They are testing exterior show lighting on Pandora

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February 22, 2017 at 4:49 AM · IMPRESSIVE!

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February 22, 2017 at 5:50 AM · I can only assume the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were as beautiful.
February 22, 2017 at 8:46 AM · Looks amazing! Can't wait!!!!
February 22, 2017 at 9:11 AM · Pandora does sound better than Ferngully. The name of the original movie.
February 22, 2017 at 9:18 AM · Avatar is the beastly kingdom. Wakeup. That's the fact. Joe Rohde isn't an apologist. He is THE creator of the Animal Kingdom Park. I still hope there's an actual Phase 2 that replaces Dino-land for Indiana Jones Adventure.
February 22, 2017 at 9:28 AM · Meh...
February 22, 2017 at 9:29 AM · In a time where well known and loved IPs are incredibly fleshed out (Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter), I'm excited to see an immersive land from an IP that isn't so well known and obsessed over in a post Diagon Alley theme park world.

WWoHP Diagon Alley set the bar nice and high on immersion. You don't have to love the Avatar movie to feel wonder at a bio-luminescent natural wonderland. It fascinates me to think there is so much I don't already know. The unknown will be a nice change and I'm looking forward to exploring and discovering this new land one day.

February 22, 2017 at 10:07 AM · jeremygary wrires: "My 13 y/o ... what's Avatar? That's a big hurdle to overcome right there."

I Reply: Show him the two teaser videos that Disney dropped and explain he can experience a 3D Imax flight on the back of a banshee and a journey down a river on another world. I imagine that would clarify things quickly. Thus, not really a hurdle.

February 22, 2017 at 10:15 AM · It looks stunning. Water World was a terrible movie but it spawned an amazing show at Universal. As was stated above, Carsland was based on a movie that was liked, but not loved by all. In fact, the Cars franchise is not regarded as Pixar's finest work at all. However, an immersive, unique environment is what theme parks do best (and it's what sets them apart from amusement parks). Although I wonder how the future Avatar movies will do (they have a big shoes to fill), it seems like this land respects the mission of Animal Kingdom entirely. I'm thrilled to try it out.
February 22, 2017 at 10:49 AM · Never seen Avatar, don't plan on seeing it, but I'm excited to see what Disney has done here, I'm sure it will be amazing! At first I was not very excited about it, since I never saw Avatar in theaters and tried to watch it a few times on TV and just couldn't get into it...however, I think this land will be less about the movie and more about the beautiful landscapes introduced in the movie, and that will be cool.
February 22, 2017 at 10:55 AM · Avatar, the movie, doesn't exactly inspire alot. However, Avatar the land, looks like it can inspire the beauty in nature, which is what Animal Kingdom is about.
February 22, 2017 at 3:03 PM · I'm hoping the land lives of to the hype because right now it's the only reason I would consider returning to Orlando. In case you're wondering why Disney would devote so much to the IP. At the time, the film's visual effects were groundbreaking and it was the highest-grossing film of all time. Unfortunately, many (but not all) of those condemning the movie do so because of a perceived agenda. This bias was propagated in various media with their own particular political agenda. Obviously, self-reflection and irony are not their strong suits.
February 22, 2017 at 11:45 AM · I firmly believe this will raise the bar for any Disney land/attraction by several levels. The beauty of Pandora - The World of Avatar is that it will be visually stunning and provide the height of escapism. The creative talent overseeing this will ensure this is maximised. Add engaging attractions which crave "let's do it! within a fully immersive environment, Animal Kingdom Park will be catapulted to new levels in attendance, popularity and repeat visits as well as the surrounding resort accommodations. Add Rivers of Light and I am salivating over my keyboard.
February 22, 2017 at 12:23 PM · In other news, in 2020 Disney will open their fifth Florida theme park, Disney's Joe Rohde's Ear, where guests can experience all of the rides and attractions Joe Rohde has hanging from his ear.
February 22, 2017 at 12:45 PM · REMINDER: There are two more Avatar movies coming out. Avatarland will be fresh and relevant.
February 22, 2017 at 2:36 PM · I wonder if Pandora Jewelers will have a shop in "Pandora land", guess I'll look for it while listening to Pandora on my phone...
February 22, 2017 at 5:28 PM · Skeptics can stay home. We don't need more people in line in front of us anyway.
I'm looking forward to this new land. My one concern: is there only one AA in the entire boat ride? That's not much. What about all the cool animals in the movie?
February 22, 2017 at 8:16 PM · Biggest worry is like the movie it'll be a great technological showcase, but lack any depth.
February 22, 2017 at 8:31 PM · Actually,, there are FOUR more movies on the way...the release of the first sequel is expected to be in December 2018, with the second to follow in December 2020, and the third and fourth to follow in 2022 and 2023. Disney may actually be getting in ahead of the curve this time!
February 22, 2017 at 10:04 PM · Honestly, I believe the detractors of everything Avatar, are climate-skeptics. Anything that promotes environmentalism is to be frowned upon. Like someone said earlier, it's a political agenda type thing with this movie.

I'm thrilled that James Cameron and Avatar can bring attention to environmental issues, while making it fun, colorful, and full of adventure. That's the best way to get young people involved in things that will affect them much more than it'll affect someone like me, who won't be around long enough to see the planet's destruction.

I still haven't seen Avatar.

February 22, 2017 at 11:48 PM · Have folks forgotten James Cameron has like 3 more Avatar films on the way...Smart move by Disney...Avatar is the biggest money making film of all time and it played huge all over the globe...I promise you these new Avatar films will be amazing and will send Animal Kingdom ticket sells thru the roof...expect this park to sell out to capacity.
February 23, 2017 at 1:30 AM · There's nothing to be skeptical about. The land will be unique, over the top, and impress even the naysayers. The only thing anyone can actually point at is the dumb movie it's based off of. The movie had unique environments however, which should translate well in the theme park realm.

Now as far as merchandise goes, if they start selling ponytail wigs with the hair sex piece I'm gonna lose it...

February 23, 2017 at 1:31 AM · "Honestly, I believe the detractors of everything Avatar, are climate-skeptics."

Huh? Avatar was a medorcre, over long ripoff of Disney's Pocahontas. I don't see why if you don't like the film it makes you a "climate-skeptic". That is a silly conclusion, it just wasn't a vey good movie, that's all. Sheesh!

February 23, 2017 at 5:43 AM · If you haven't seen Avatar, just imagine the movie Pocahontas in the future, with aliens and space ships. (seriously, even the initials of some of the main characters fit)

Honestly I can't believe so many people are so against this and why they doubt the IP. Like someone else pointed out, it was the highest-grossing film of all time. When the movie came out it was everywhere and it was not usual to hear from people who had seen the movie over 10 times. I don't see how anyone can watch Avatar and not be sucked into the amazing visuals and the amazing story.

Also, I love the comment about detractors being climate skeptics from Gabriel above. In addition though, there are always contrarians to anything new. There will always be those that hate any form of success, that enjoy seeing efforts like this fail, and will go against anything main-stream for no apparent reason.

February 23, 2017 at 8:15 AM · Why does it always have to come back to a political comment about "climate deniers"...its a theme park land, if they create an immersive land with a few great attractions, everyone will enjoy it...I get so tired of everyone thinking everything has to be some shrine to whatever their political beliefs are or they will "boycott"...I happen to be a conservative republican and I think Pandora's going to be a cool deal, politics and global warming never even crossed my mind...if Disney starts getting politically in your face with their theme park attractions, that ruins the fun and joy...I go to these places to get away from all that, not be inundated with it. I have a feeling Pandora will have a conservation message and not be in your face about it and that's how it should be.
February 23, 2017 at 8:58 AM · FWIW, if the first Avatar sequel were to make its deadline of December 2018, it'd have to have begun filming by now, especially since the plan is to shoot all of the sequels together. It kind of makes you wonder if we'll see *any* sequel at all. With that in mind, the area at AK is going to probably be the only way Avatar stays culturally relevant.
February 23, 2017 at 1:10 PM · Pocahontas? I thought it was much more "Dances with Wolves."
February 23, 2017 at 1:16 PM · I think it’s weird to get indignant when people point out reality. Maybe some were not paying attention or have forgot but at the time the movie came out there was quite a bit of talk among conservatives who claimed the movie promoted anti-capitalism, anti-military, pro-evironmental, and pro-indigious people. I think this led some people to hold negatives opinions about the movie and anything to do with the movie, like Pandora at DAK. I do not expect Pandora to political but that will not stop some people from seeing some sort of nefarious Hollywood plot behind it all. If you are looking to be offended you can pretty much find it anywhere and that goes for anyone regardless of their political views.
February 23, 2017 at 1:16 PM · I think it’s weird to get indignant when people point out reality. Maybe some were not paying attention or have forgot but at the time the movie came out there was quite a bit of talk among conservatives who claimed the movie promoted anti-capitalism, anti-military, pro-evironmental, and pro-indigious people. I think this led some people to hold negatives opinions about the movie and anything to do with the movie, like Pandora at DAK. I do not expect Pandora to political but that will not stop some people from seeing some sort of nefarious Hollywood plot behind it all. If you are looking to be offended you can pretty much find it anywhere and that goes for anyone regardless of their political views.
February 23, 2017 at 2:11 PM · All that political stuff about Avatar was certainly acknowledged by James Cameron.

"VIEIRA: Yeah there's a love story and also there's a message about, you know, greed and when people want a lot of things, imperialism. All of that.

CAMERON: And how that tends to destroy the environment and so on. And here they are doing the same thing on another pristine planet that we've done here on earth. So it's a way, sort of looking back at ourselves from this other world and seeing what we're doing here."

Still, it wasn't unenjoyable as a movie and it was more love story as he also said.

"All of my movies are chick flicks. I can't, I can't help it. Aliens was a chick flick. So was, so were the Terminator films, you know? And this film is no different because I love strong female characters. I love writing complex women. And even though this is Sam Worthington's character's story and we follow him, we have these amazing women in the story as well and there's a love story."

Avatar is Love at times of War ;)

February 23, 2017 at 4:49 PM · I loved Dances With Wolves. There should be a Buffalo Hunt animatronic attraction and a themed restaurant called Tatonka to go along with it. Sure, animal rights groups would get pi-- very angry, but it would be sooooo good!
February 24, 2017 at 1:40 AM · When James Cameron starts living in the woods like an Indian I'll take his "environmental" message seriously. Besides the idea that Indians were in harmony with their environment is a myth. They impacted their environment just like every other human society. They burned and cleared forest for farming and hunted animals to extinction just like in Eurasia and Africa (anyone ever heard of the Wooly Mammoth?) Actually horses may have also been wiped out by the early Americans when they survived to domestication in Eurasia. They would not exist in America for thousands of years until being reintroduced by the Spanish in 1492. What Europeans mistook for untamed wilderness was actually Native farming lands. Europeans could not recognize the farms because Natives learned that by mixing their crops they got a higher yield, unlike the one crop per field technique of Europe. The great empires of Central America fell because they could no longer support their massive city dwelling populations with their current technology. At their height they were larger than any European city at the time.
February 24, 2017 at 8:51 AM · I am absolutely certain that James Cameron is terribly concerned about when Daniel Galvan finally takes his environmental message seriously.


February 24, 2017 at 12:06 PM · You never know, he may very well be if they keep losing elections.


February 24, 2017 at 12:51 PM · I'm a liberal, pro-science anti-imperialist and I still the Avatar sucked.
February 24, 2017 at 3:49 PM · "They?" Um ... this thread was discussing the new Avatar attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. Did Mo'at run for office recently.


February 24, 2017 at 7:49 PM · Exactly yet you felt the need to sarcastically make your last statement about me personally. Way off topic.
February 25, 2017 at 9:01 AM · Its a fictional land with an environmental conservation message. It is really that simple.

The success or failure of this land has very little to do with the movie. The movie helps, but doesn't doom or praise this land.

Lets be honest as well. There was nothing of real value in the area that is now Pandora (except Festival of the Lion King which is in its rightful place)

February 25, 2017 at 11:15 AM · This will fit perfectly with the upside down oil rig of life icon of the park and the lands themed to third world poverty like Africa and Asia. AK even tackles first world poverty with Dinoland, they even had McDonald's open and then leave town to make it more realistic. I hope that they bring in some more popular IP like the Breaking Bad RV to improve the theme even more.
February 25, 2017 at 6:36 PM · (Chuckle)
February 26, 2017 at 5:20 AM · It fit's in, just because you can "make" it fit in... both by hard work at the level of design, as by heavy marketing bulldozing.

Also, it fits in "now" (the after-the-year-2000 Disney reality), because serious edutainment is dieing all over. It's step by step scrapped out of Epcot (both parts of the park), it's scrapped out of the "Studios" (fake anyway, if you think you'll (still) learn something about moviemaking there), and DAK is no different in this respect.
Movie IP is taking over EVERYWHERE. Not even "Disney" movies.. because Disney is no longer the respected filmmaker it once was, it's rather the biggest distributor of productions from "whatever franchise they can grasp upon". These franchisers do have the FINAL decision power at the theme parks, now. Signing franchising contract equals also receiving an "important" theme park section. (Read : win-win) Thus, they are dumped anywhere you can find/make space.
Avatar > quite a lot of space left over in DAK ? > perfect, drop it there. End of the story.

February 26, 2017 at 6:55 AM · @ Daniel Galvan
Imagination alas goes a long way.. :-)

Huge cities unable to feed themselves anymore ?
(Ref. "..their massive city dwelling populations.." )
Have a look at data from in depth archeological demographic field studies, like with the Astec.
> pg 8
Exageration is excellent for best seller books (making money always is easier with fantasy..), but does not hold a tie with scientific research reality.

Apart from plain fantasy, be more carefull with hypotheses as well. Pinning down un-proven hypotheses as truth, is exactly what scientists are NOT doing...


February 27, 2017 at 12:48 PM · All politics aside, I thought "Avatar" was a bad movie. It's greatest appeal came from its stunning visuals and the fact that its 3D was considered groundbreaking at the time. Its sequels have been delayed time and time again. When they finally do come out, there's no guarantee they'll be commercially successful. The original was popular nearly a decade ago, but I'm not sure how much people will care about the new ones. I'm sure Disney's Pandora will look great and have wonderful attractions. But there's a goo chance the appeal simply won't be there. That could be a big stumbling block. Sure not everyone likes Potter, but a LOT of people do. "Avatar" hasn't proven itself in the same way yet and may just be looked back on as a novelty.
February 28, 2017 at 9:33 AM · I would rather have a lifeboat flume ride based on Cameron's better Titanic film with an aquarium then a Soarn ride and blue plants. It could be like Disney Seas American waterfront but with more animals to see and it would be ready for Dapper Day. The issue I have with Avatar is that it does not add any setting, characters or real animals that people actually want to go to see and both rides look cookie cutter.

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