I always questioned if Disney World's real answer to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the Fantasyland expansion, which while great looking, never really compared equally for me.
Now, with a surprise announcement on the Disney Parks Blog, I think I see more clearly what Disney has planned to fight the good fight with the wizard: Avatar and James Cameron. They just announced a "long-term creative partnership" with Lightstorm Entertainment and Fox Filmed Entertainment, the creators and distributors of Avatar, to create theme park lands and attractions based on the film.
Avatar will take up home in its own land in Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park, with construction possibly starting in 2013, and a potential opening of 2017 - so Avatar fans needn't book their flights to Florida quite yet. An obvious question is whether or not the Avatar area will replace the land once destined to be Beastly Kingdom... another is if Joe Rhode, a lead designer of the entire park, is on board with the project.
While "Avatar Land" will first open at Animal Kingdom, that will be the first of several. Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, promises that the areas will be complete, including attractions, entertainment, shops, food and more as a fully immersive experience.
At first thought Animal Kingdom seems an unlikely place for the Avatar area, but if you consider the visuals of Pandora (the moon Avatar takes place on), like the shot above, it starts to work a bit better. I still feel like there's a bit of a stretch in there, but according to the Disney Parks Blog "Animal Kingdom is a great fit for this project because it was created to give guests the opportunity to experience the worlds of animals and nature – real and mythical – in new ways. Disney’s Animal Kingdom also celebrates adventure, living in harmony with nature and environmental stewardship – themes that are deeply rooted in the story of AVATAR."
Avatar grossed an amazing $2.8 billion worldwide after its 2009 release. There are currently two sequels planned to the film, creating a trilogy. Those films are expected to be released in 2014 and 2015, so the films will still be quite relevant when the land opens.