Pandora - The World of Avatar: A Journalist’s Quest into Disney
by S. Aleksander Black
The new Disney “Pandora - The World of Avatar,” shines brightly with a beautiful harmony of lights and nature. However, there is still room for growth and further development content-wise.
The new area of the Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom park known as “Avatar Land,” is based on the movie “Avatar;” a 2009 film set in the 22nd century, where humans are attempting to colonize a forest planet called Pandora, in order to mine a certain ore. Written and produced by James Cameron, many predicted the film would fail, but it eventually found massive success. The movie received outstanding critical reviews, as it is currently the highest-grossing movie of all time and was the first movie to ever gross more than $2 billion. Two more sequels are currently in progress and set to be released in December 2020 and December 2021, respectively.
After entering an agreement with The Walt Disney Company in 2011, construction was planned for the new Avatar-themed part of Animal Kingdom that we see today. “Pandora - The World of Avatar,” opened to the public on May 27, 2017, and has enjoyed immense popularity since.
This year, during winter break, I traveled to Disney World to examine this new location myself; one visit during the day, and another at night.
After entering from Discovery Island, I was greeted by a beautiful entrance walkway, lined by tree-inspired lamps, exotic-looking plants, and artificial foliage radiating green, purple, and azure light. Green lasers shone on the trees, creating an illusion of fireflies. Simultaneously, sounds of jungle animals drifted through the air, and completed the otherworldly atmosphere. The paths were etched with leaf patterns and covered in moss-like texture, which glowed in the surrounding black light. It was an attractive way to introduce newcomers to the Pandora atmosphere, as it felt like a cohesive environment.
The main section had a design that truly felt like a biome transported right out from the “Avatar” universe. Beautiful, natural-looking waterfalls and ponds gave off a serene atmosphere, complemented by large purple pitcher plants and luminescent undergrowth. However, the real stars of the show were the “floating islands.” Gigantic masses of stone hovered above the ride lines and paths, appearing to levitate. The ingenious method used to support these islands was to place supports inside giant artificial vines. The islands do not look entirely untethered because of these vines, but it’s a better illusion than anyone could have imagined was possible. Long lines for the two main attractions stretched across the area. When I walked past the “Avatar Flight of Passage” ride (a fast-paced simulator ride), the wait was listed as an unbelievable 250 minutes long.
I soon joined the line for the “Na’vi River Journey” ride, and after a short wait thanks to Disney’s FastPass+ system, I boarded the boat and embarked on my journey down the river. The ride slowly traveled through a dark jungle of bioluminescent plants and animals. I was most impressed by a seamless meshing of digital technology and physical objects; screens with animals and Na’vi lurked in the backgrounds, and a river on a screen even ended in a real-life waterfall in the background. However, the ride was far from flawless. Despite being dark, you could still see more of the ceiling and walls than what was ideal. Additionally, an animatronic Na’vi near the end of the ride, despite having excellent movement capabilities, had a very grating singing voice that was unappealing. These negatives definitely do not outweigh the positives though, as the ride was highly enjoyable and well-executed.
The ride’s gift shop was not nearly as satisfying, but had its fair share of interesting products. “Avatar” merchandise covered the shelves as expected, but there were two corners of the store with exclusive items. One was a custom Na’vi figurine scanner; a booth operated by an employee scanned the face of the buyer, which then used a computer program to generate a unique Na’vi figurine face. After some observation, unfortunately, it did not seem to be particularly worthwhile. The facial features of the Na’vi people had very few distinguishing details and looked nearly identical. The other exclusive product was more interesting, and significantly more popular. Small dragon-like mountain banshees from the “Avatar” movie perched on people’s shoulders, controlled via a remote that the person held. The multi-colored creatures could accomplish several movement patterns and make various noises. I noticed many visitors had these with them, attesting to the appeal of the product, but I think that the entertainment provided would vanish soon after the purchase.
The “Pandora - World of Avatar” area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom had near-flawless aesthetics, but I found it to be somewhat lacking in terms of content. The entire section only had two rides, both of which had congested lines, burning time for many visitors. This is to be expected because of the novelty of the rides, but it would have been nice to have more rides or activities to distribute the people a little more. In my opinion, more rides would instantly solve the lack of content for visitors, making the environment more appealing.
The “Avatar” land of Walt Disney World was a victory for the theme park, and will certainly be a popular location in Animal Kingdom for years to come thanks to its entrancing appearance and well-designed attractions.