Are Avatar and Disney a Good Match?

Disney made an announcement yesterday that took most everybody by surprise. The reception to this news has been mixed, at best. Moments after news broke Disney fans aired their opinions on facebook and blogs. Indeed, I spent a good portion of my night reading these opinions. Now that I’ve had some time to digest the Disney/Avatar partnership let me add some of my own opinions:

This is not the first time the Walt Disney Company has partnered with competing studios. Two words: George. Lucas. That particular partnership brought a series of successful attractions to multiple theme parks. Star Tours, Temple of the Forbidden Eye and even the Indiana Jones Stunt Show are arguably perennial favorites. However, when Michael Eisner announced that a Star Wars attraction would be replacing Walt Disney’s aging “Adventure Thru Inner Space” fans were hardly excited. Many protested. James Cameron’s future attractions have already met a comparable resistance. Can we expect the public to similarly embrace it in the future? I think so.

As announced, the plan is to add Avatar-land (Pandora?) to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. One could argue that Avatar and Animal Kingdom are kindred spirits because of their ecological bend. Both have lush and overgrown landscapes. Both have a centralized big tree. However, I’m still not entirely convinced. Sure, Animal Kingdom’s dedication included mention of “kingdom of imagined animals”… but that could have meant Homer’s Odyssey! Frankly, I think that would have been a better fit. How soon will an entire Avatar themed land look out-dated? Another valid question is simply, where? Would Disney place this new land between the Africa and Asia sections; or will they finally replace Camp Minnie-Mickey (the park’s original spot designated for mythological creatures)? My preference would be the latter. If Disney decides otherwise, I think the land of Pandora should be accessed via the train. Yep, that means Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Conservation Station would have to retire – and what a shame that would be…..

Michael Eisner made a lot of enemies during his 20 years as CEO. Bob Iger has clearly made it his prerogative to mend fences and build profitable partnerships. Recent examples (and proof) of Bob’s mission include the successful Pixar acquisition, the acquiring of Oswald from NBC, the company’s renewed focus on traditional hand-drawn animation, and the reconciliation of the strenuous relationship between the Walt Disney Company and Roy Disney. I think it’s obvious that the partnership between Lightstorm Entertainment, Fox Entertainment, and Disney is just Iger’s most recent attempt to produce a profitable and friendly Hollywood relationship.

Lastly, I think Disney felt they had to buy Avatar. What if James Cameron was shopping his movie around to different theme parks? Had Disney passed on this purchase Universal may have ended up with a one-two punch (namely Potter and Avatar) in one theme park. I think it’s very likely that Disney felt pressured to keep this highly profitable franchise away from Universal. The comparisons between the proposed Avatar-land and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter have already been made. Plus, Disney still has a bruised ego over the tepid reaction to the Fantasyland Forest expansion (seen as Disney’s original response to Universal’s attendance booster). Yesterday’s announcement certainly created a Potter-like buzz… didn’t it?

You can only imagine what Disney’s executives look like today: hands in their pockets, leaning back on their heels, and grinning like the Cheshire cat. They may be thinking “we’ve still got it”… but do they? Avatar wasn’t a Disney property – but is sure was successful. Clearly, the message from Disney is that it is wiser to bet on a sure thing than to take chances and develop something exciting and new.

What do you think? Are James Cameron’s Avatar and Disney theme parks a good match?

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