What Should Disneyland's Avatar Experience Be?

February 9, 2023, 7:54 AM · Now that Disney CEO Bob Iger has dropped the news that an Avatar-themed experience is coming to the Disneyland Resort, what will it be? And where would it go?

It's hard to envision where a Walt Disney World-style World of Pandora land would fit within the current footprints of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, without major demolition of existing attractions. Perhaps a Pandora land could go elsewhere on property, but that would require the City of Anaheim to green-light the DisneylandForward proposal before that project could begin. I doubt that Disney would do something that Anaheim critics might interpret as disrespect by announcing such a project before the DisneylandForward process is complete.

But let's also recognize that Iger used the word "experience" when describing Disneyland's Avatar project. He did not say "land" or "attraction." Words matter to storytellers, so I interpret Iger's word choice as suggesting that Disneyland's Avatar project might lie closer to the Avatar: Explore Pandora experience at Shanghai Disneyland than Pandora - The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Still, the Shanghai project was developed by Disney Location-Based Experiences with Lightstorm Entertainment. And Iger said that he had been talking with Walt Disney Imagineering about the Disneyland project, so that suggests that whatever Disneyland is getting will not be another installation of what Disney offered in Shanghai. It might be similar in size and scope, but it will be different.

There's nothing keeping Disneyland from installing elements from Florida's Pandora rather than the whole land, either. If we're synching with an Avatar in Flight of Passage, for example, there's no thematic reason why we can't do that from Disneyland's Tomorrowland rather than on Pandora itself. But where would it go? Putting in on the site of the Star Wars Launch Bay building would be a tight fit, and demo'ing that structure would be expensive. But it's the least utilized large space in the parks right now.

That leaves some sort of experience within the Launch Bay building, which seems the best option for a company that is cutting 7,000 jobs and trying to save $5.5 billion. So that's my bet, at this point.

What are you hoping to see?

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Replies (14)

February 9, 2023 at 10:09 AM

Of course I would hope to see the land if anything, but they clearly don’t have enough room at Disneyland, so likely a meet and greet in the Launch Bay building. But like you suggested, they could put Flight of Passsage in Tomorrowland- well, thematically. They do seem to have some trees behind the Launch Bay building looking at maps, so they could extend that plot of land if they demo’d it? Or perhaps it’s time for Star Tours and the neighboring Star Trader to go since they now have Galaxy’s Edge, and maybe that’s a spot to fit in Flight if Passage. Although that still may not be enough room for the fully immersive queue. It’s a pretty big building, but not as big as Pirates in CA or Rise of the Resistance.

February 9, 2023 at 10:25 AM

The rumors have been around for years, but could this mean the Submarine/Nemo Lagoon days are finally coming to an end ????

February 9, 2023 at 10:28 AM

If they opt to bring Flight of Passage to Tomorrowland, it could be at the expense of Star Tours/Traders and whatever is left of the Honey I Shrunk The Captain E.O building. I'm not sure if even that is enough space.

I do think the smart money is on some sort of attraction/exhibit ala Shanghai in the old Innoventions building.

February 9, 2023 at 11:00 AM

Daring idea but maybe something new based on the newer films, a mix of Flight of Passage and the fish creatures from "Way of Water" to try and fit into Tomorrowland.

February 9, 2023 at 11:07 AM

MikeW that would be a good retheme for Nemo!

However, highly doubtful Nemo will fall victim to AVATAR. They just refurbished it.

February 9, 2023 at 11:17 AM

A replacement for Star Tours makes sense since Star Wars is on the other side of the park now.

February 9, 2023 at 11:25 AM

Yeah, Star Tours feels like it's not long for this world; whether that be in the quest for unobtanium or something else.

February 9, 2023 at 11:35 AM

Yeah got to agree with Star Tours. But would FoP fit in that and the surrounding footprint?

Before i do my best analyzing google maps and satellite and such I dont think its going to be a ride. It's more than likely a meet and greet or exhibit type of deal.

Fun to speculate though.

February 9, 2023 at 12:14 PM

Prediction: Will be similar to the Smart Hulk "experience" in AC.

February 9, 2023 at 12:57 PM

Despite the suggestion that Avatar is a tired and dated IP by many commenters on this site, the fact remains that it now holds 2 of the top 4 spots on the all-time highest grossing films list. The 3rd film is in the can and just finishing post production and the 4th and 5th are now officially greenlit. Disney knows full well that the popularity of this IP is not waning and their desire to expand its footprint is not surprising in the least. Even outside of the films, the potential for expansion of this universe through Disney+ shows (live action and animated), comics and video games remains untapped. This idea has even been posited by James Cameron himself. Avatar is basically his Star Wars.
So I’ll take the easy diplomatic route and suggest that Disney may yet announce BOTH a meet and greet style “experience” occupying the Star Trader area to be debuted sometime in the near future but also announce an E-ticket Avatar attraction to be implemented at a later date. It would probably make the most sense to gut the current Star Tours attraction and build out a clone of FoP, and the theming would have no trouble fitting in that spot, as Robert suggested above. Whatever the case ends up being I do not expect Disney to stand pat on nursing this IP throughout its non-WDW parks, especially considering its strong performance overseas.

February 9, 2023 at 3:14 PM

I just can't see FoP coming to California primarily because that is the rumored ride system for the Wakanda attraction coming to DCA that was doubled down on during last year's D23. It certainly wouldn't be unprecedented for Disney to use the same/similar ride systems in 2 different parks at the same resort, but it just doesn't seem like a smart move in this particular case. Also, I think many here are significantly underestimating the size of the FoP ride. Even if Disney scaled down the system by half (2 theaters instead of 4), you'd be looking at a building that would be at least 100'x75' and still nearly 75' tall, which would pretty much consume the entire area where Star Tours is right now or almost the entire Launch Bay building. Now, if Disney wanted to get really creative, Autopia probably offers the largest plot of underutilized space in Disneyland that could be used to not only build a half-scale version of FoP (in the back section of the track area), but would allow for a Pandora-themed mini-land area where the current load station is. Eliminating Autopia would also get rid of one of the most problematic attractions in Tomorrowland from an sustainability standpoint and given California's despise for petroleum-fueled vehicles.

However, as Robert astutely notes, Iger clearly used the word "experience", NOT "attraction" or "land". CEOs are always careful with the words they use in earnings calls, so I doubt this word choice was by accident, making it pretty clear to me that this will be some type of meet and greet or walk-through attraction, NOT a ride of any sort. Also, I highly doubt if Disney was planning to bring anything on the scale of PtWoA they would drop it so nonchalantly as part of an investor call.

February 9, 2023 at 1:45 PM

I agree 100% that an announcement of a major attraction would be brought forth with much more fanfare than a brief mention. I also agree that the sheer size of FoP’s footprint is massive. I think that regarding my post above I’d honestly be more surprised if FoP was brought to Tomorrowland (even with the compelling suggestion of gutting Autopia) than I would be with the eventual announcement of an E-ticket somewhere else at DL or DCA. My main point is that the Avatar expansion is only starting in terms of its presence in the parks both domestically and internationally

February 9, 2023 at 4:43 PM

With it looking increasingly likely that Tiana's Bayou Adventure probably won't open until 2025 in California, I think we should be looking at this as something that can be ready to open next year to fill the 2024 spot vs. anything more major that's going to take several years to build. If it wasn't expected to open before next summer, there'd be little reason to announce it now vs. waiting until the next D23 Expo to show it off. To me, that implies it's either a redo of the Star Wars Launch Bay or (less likely) something similar in scale built elsewhere at the resort.

I mentioned in the other thread the idea of redoing the building as the RDA Science Center and setting it up with a museum-style exhibit on Pandora. There could be various small scale displays showcasing glowing plants, animatronic creatures, or other displays relating to Pandora, along with a meet and greet with a Na'Vi ambassador and a shop selling Avatar merchandise. If we're really lucky, the upstairs could be converted into a VR Linkchair experience similar to Flight of Passage but much, much smaller in scale (and one that might need to be upcharged due to capacity constraints). This would provide a thematically appropriate space to showcase the IP, as well as a design that could be updated periodically to promote upcoming films by swapping out displays to feature newer items.

If Avatar remains popular, I do believe a Pandora/Flight of Passage copy is likely in the future, either as part of Disneyland Forward or as a replacement for the Autopia/Monorail/Subs area (with the unused territory being ceded to Fantasyland), but I believe such a project to be five-plus years off (potentially for the park's 75th in 2030). There's no way the attraction would work as a replacement for anything in Tomorrowland at present, as the building for the attraction in Florida takes up about 50,000 sq. ft. of space, which is more than twice the footprint of either Star Tours or the Launch Bay.

February 9, 2023 at 11:27 PM

I've got it! They'll throw a mask on the Tarzan costume & do a Spider meet-and-greet!

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