It seems appropriate that the new Avatar Land coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom will be located in an area of the Florida theme park originally set aside for a never-built land devoted to mythical and legendary creatures.
Instead of a Beastly Kingdom dedicated to dragons, unicorns and sea creatures, the otherworldly Avatar Land debuting in 2017 at the Walt Disney World park will be populated by blue-skinned Na'vi people, bioluminescent trees and flying banshees from the 2009 "Avatar" movie.
The new themed land will be tied to a trio of sequels continuing the story set forth in the highest-grossing film of all time. James Cameron, who directed, wrote and produced the original science fiction epic, promises Avatar Land will let visitors "live, eat, breathe and smell Pandora."
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During a recent visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom, I found most of Avatar Land hidden behind construction walls in the former Camp Minnie-Mickey area between the Africa and Oasis sections of the park. The framework of a large show building surrounded by towering cranes can be seen rising from nearby roadways.
Avatar Land will take over a location once occupied by the Disney character meet-and-greet area and the "Festival of the Lion King" show, which has been relocated to a new theater.
The alien land's marquee attraction will be an E-Ticket banshee flight simulator similar to Soarin' at Epcot and Soarin' Over California at Disney California Adventure. Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, who is spearheading the project, says the new ride system will be "considerably more thrilling" than the original Soarin'.
A D-Ticket indoor boat ride similar to Pirates of the Caribbean will take riders on a river journey through the illuminated forest of Pandora.
A new nighttime spectacular featuring music, performers and water screen projections will take place on Discovery River, similar to World of Color at Disney California Adventure. For the new show, Disney is reportedly teaming up with Cirque du Soleil and WET, the design firm responsible for the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.
After dark, lighting effects will play a prominent role in Avatar Land, with LED-lighted sidewalks and illuminated plants that respond to the touch. The man-made Tree of Life, the centerpiece of the park, is expected to undergo a major makeover that will incorporate lighting effects into every branch and leaf.
By day, the futuristic Avatar Land will be populated by lush jungle foliage, floating mountains and the ruins of a military base camp sprinkled with audio-animatronics, 3-D projections and hologram effects. An area themed as the Pandora landing station mess hall could serve as a quick-service restaurant.
It remains to be seen if Disney will incorporate any actual flying creatures into Avatar Land. A "flying entertainment vehicle" ultralight aircraft that looks remarkably similar to an "Avatar" dragon made its debut in late 2012 during the reopening of Fantasyland at Disney World.
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