Listeners of our podcast often make jokes about my apparent rage about the construction of an Avatar based land. It’s assumed that if the word “Avatar” is even whispered on our show, I’ll probably grumble a little. They’re right to assume that’ll be my response. Some of my complaining is intended to be comedic, but I can assure you that the anger is not contrived. I genuinely dislike the idea of an Avatarland being built in the Animal Kingdom. In this article, I will try to articulate my reasons for my distaste for the idea.
1) All of my friends, colleagues and acquiantances hate it.
I am not joking when I tell you that not a single person that I’ve discussed this with has expressed any positive reaction to the idea of an Avatarland. This includes all of my personal friends, people that I work with and people that I’ve discussed it with in passing. This also includes people who visit WDW at least once a year and people who have never been before. It includes shareholders and people who have no financial interest in the company. A close personal friend of mine who brings his family to Walt Disney World at least once a year grimaced when I told him the news about Avatarland and said bluntly, “I would never go see that”. Today, he still doesn’t care what sort of attractions could be placed in the themed land. The movie itself was enough to drive his interest away. The shareholder I mentioned shrugged his shoulders when I told him about the breaking news of development plans being leaked on the web. His response was, “It’s not a great idea. I’ll see it once, but probably not more than that”. He mentioned that as someone who holds financial interest in the company, he’s disappointed. I understand.
2) Avatar as a cultural phenomenon is dying rapidly.
Go ahead and do a Twitter search for Avatar. I have been searching relatively frequently for the past few days for mentions of Avatar around the web and have found basically no conversation at all around the movie anymore. I’ve always maintained that a film within the fantasy genre is only successful if nerds continue to talk about it. I don’t mean this in any pejorative way and don’t want to denigrate the geek demographic. If you’re reading this, you’re probably as geeky, if not more geeky than the guy writing it. What I mean is that for the movie based ’lands’ that have worked in theme parks, you’ll find countless message boards, fan fiction, games and so on. I have not yet seen anything remotely close to the saturation that Star Wars or Harry Potter holds among a fan community for Avatar. In fact, I just conducted a Google search for Avatar Message Board, and the first result was for what appears to be some Nick show. Scrolling down didn’t reveal anything else. Avatar as a film franchise received just as much hype as the Matrix movies. When’s the last time you heard someone talking about the Matrix?
3) Let’s all be honest, if it weren’t for the CGI, no one would have really cared about the movie.
One of my primary contentions in the past has been that Avatar simply was an extremely bad movie once you get past the CGI. Many people have rightly compared it to Pocahontas in terms of the story. The film itself really doesn’t produce anything lasting in terms of value. People latched on to Harry Potter because it’s a story of good and evil, love and self-sacrifice for one’s friends. The story was endearing and actually spoke to people’s humanity. It’s why the park works – people don’t just like Harry Potter stuff for the thrill of it. They identify with the deeply human story embedded in the characters and places. I’m still not entirely sure what the story of Avatar was because the graphics were so distracting. And I don’t mean that they were distracting in a good way, either. I recently compared Avatar in terms of CGI to Thomas Kinkade in terms of painting – both look like artistic vomit to me. They’re both way over the top to the point of being simply unbelievable. Which brings me to my next point. If Disney is simply looking to capitalize on Avatar because it contained breaking CGI, the attractions will be outdated before they’re built. One thing I’ve always expected from Disney is story. We all love the parks because of the stories that were told and the inventiveness they inspired. Avatar is neither good narrative nor good story.
So, in conclusion, my real problem with Avatarland is that it’s simply not good for Disney or for the guest. All of the feedback I’ve received from fans and passive park-goers suggests that no one is all that interested. Additionally, as was mentioned in the blog in a different article, Jay Rasulo stated in September, 2012 , that Avatarland, “will be funded out of the normal capital expenditure profile”. If it does nothing to boost attendance, guess who gets to absorb the impact of that cost to recoup those retained earnings to meet the required rate of return for investors? I encourage Disney to find something to fill in that desolate wasteland Tim calls the Animal Kingdom, but I still maintain that Avatarland isn’t the answer.
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