Disney’s ‘Avatarland’ expansion, based on the successful James Cameron film franchise, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom may in fact be in trouble as rampant rumors have speculated in recent months. Yet just as recently as December, Disney has remained adamant that everything was just fine, according to this article by the Orlando Sentinel.
But according to paperwork recently filed with the Orange County comptroller’s office, everything may not be hunky-dory in the land of the Na’vi. The document calls for the installation of FASTPASS+ for ‘Festival of the Lion King,’ a show that was expected to close and relocate elsewhere in the park to make way for the ‘Avatarland,’ which is said to replace Camp Minnie-Mickey.
While installing FASTPASS+ capability for the show is not a life-time commitment by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not insignificant either. For beginners, the show has never formally had FASTPASS which means a brand new installation, which involves underground wiring for distribution machines and the like. The Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park is also one of the last to receive the FASTPASS+ treatment with the ‘My Disney Experience’ NextGen project focus being placed on Magic Kingdom, followed by Epcot. In other words, it seems like an awful lot of investment in time and resources for a location whose razing was once supposedly imminent (‘Avatarland’ is supposed to break ground in 2013).
This news couldn’t come at a stranger time for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, as in addition to the reports of challenges in working with James Cameron, there is a major reorganization of theme park leadership effective as of today. In addition, Tony Baxer, the senior vice president of creative development at Walt Disney Imagineering, is expected to formally announce his retirement today, shifting into more of a consulting role. Add to that the recent Magic Kingdom expansion of ‘New Fantasyland’ and Disney’s recent addition of proven franchises: Cars Land at Disney California Adventure (rumored to be coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and Lucasfilm / Star Wars and suddenly the road to ‘Avatarland’ has sprung up a lot of potential forks along the way.
It doesn’t seem to rain much in the rainforest-like environment of Avatar’s Pandora, but we’re pretty sure that if and when it does rain there, it pours. No sooner than a forum thread pop up suggesting James Cameron gave the okay to Disney to proceed with AvatarLand at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort, that purported ‘leaked’ blueprints of some sort involving the layout of the new land’s attractions.
While many tout its authenticity and nobody appears to doubt its validity, at question is whether the leak was intentional or not, which is essentially the same scenario proposed when a far more detailed design of the New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom surfaced months before the formal announcement. Of course then it wasn’t a confirmed project at the time, whereas AvatarLand should come as no shock to anyone at this point (other than it apparently is in the on-again stage of the development process).
The surfaced images show layouts for two attractions, suspiciously identified as ‘E-ticket’ and ‘C-ticket,’ but it’s possible these are just terms to suggest their scope to an outsider such as a contractor or sponsor. The ‘E-ticket,’ which is known in some circles as ‘Soarin’ 2.0,’ is shown as a massive multi-level show building with four independent theaters, believed to house a 3D flight over Pandora, but using a ride vehicle that perhaps moves along a track or at least moves quite a bit more than the Soarin’ handglider vehicle does. Arguably even more interesting is that the layout calls for a 3D glasses cleaning area which is as equally fascinating as it is suspicious. Granted a new 3D attraction calls for more 3D glasses, Walt Disney World already has a ‘central’ location for cleaning glasses from all attractions at Epcot, so it’s worth noting that perhaps the additional load, coupled with Animal Kingdom’s ‘isolation’ is enough to justify an additional cleaning system which would presumably also handle the glasses from ‘It’s Tough To Be A Bug.’ The second attraction appears to be a water-based attraction such as a mild flume ride, that many are likening to ‘Living with the Land.’
AvatarLand is expected to consume the area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Camp Minnie-Mickey, home to several character meet and greets as well as the Festival of the Lion King stage show. Although we did previously report that it looked as though the show would close at is present location in early 2013, reportedly for about six months until a permanent location in Africa was available, we also noted recently on Twitter that Walt Disney World is now casting for the show throughout November, suggesting an immediate closure is not nearly as likely to occur. As of this time, those auditions are still listed as happening, although we will advise of any changes.
Many are anticipating that Disney Parks and Resorts will make further announcements and perhaps release concept art during its media extravaganza for New Fantasyland on December 7, but it’s fair to note it would not be unprecedented if the day came and went without so much as a whisper.
The latest species on the endangered list to be highlighted at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort will be the Tumble Monkey, if reports are to be believed. A reliable insider has advised us that the gymnasts performing at the popular ‘Festival of the Lion King’ show located at Camp Minnie-Mickey have been put on six month notice (as of last month) and — to date — there have been no changes or amendments made to said job loss notification.
If this is indeed the case, it basically sets FOTLK for an early 2013 closing at the latest, lasting perhaps no longer than February (we were provided only with a rough timeline, not a specific date). Even so, it would be possible for the company to simply end the show and pay off the remainder of the contract should it determine to be more cost effective to do so.
The logical explanation provided for the end of the popular show’s reign (which has been a staple at the park since it opened in 1998) is that Camp Minnie-Mickey will be leveled in favor of ‘Avatarland’ which is expected to break ground in 2013. Most recently, reports have come in that ‘Avatarland’ is anywhere from stalled-to-canceled, but these reports mostly cite an IGN report which mentions only that the project is delayed, but even that arguably incorrectly culls its info from its own cited source, which effectively bases the rumor on nothing more than a combination of no concept art being publicly shared and (what amounts to) fanfic.
While The Walt Disney Company is being conspicuously mum on its plans for ‘Avatarland,’ it has seemingly been moving forward with the project, conducting balloon surveys and, of course, telling its current cast members their services will no longer be required soon.
What you see here is one of Walt Disney Imagineering’s newest inventions being tested earlier this year at Minter Field Airport in Shafter, California — a flying dragon puppet that even — get this — breathes fire.
The flying fantasy object was recently spotted as reported by the Bakersfield Californian, but this picture here, amongst others, has actually been online since May. It comes via the Facebook page of Tammy Jackson-Zaninovich who reports the sighting as ‘just another day’ at the airport.
According to the report, the dragon has been making monthly appearances at the airport where Disney has been renting a hangar, golf cart and other paraphernalia and plans to ship the dragon (not fly it) to Orlando later this summer.
While all signs point to possible research for Avatarland at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, one commenter on the original photo in May says it’s not Avatar related, though she wasn’t sure what the intent was. To her credit, she was also able to note the flying puppet would be able to breathe fire as well that it would return to the airport for further testing in June/July.