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Details emerge on Disney's plans to bring 'Avatar' to its parks

September 20, 2011 | 12:43 pm

Disney parks avatar The Walt Disney Co. has struck a deal to bring the fantasy world of "Avatar" to Disney Parks, starting with a multi-attraction themed land at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Fla.

Director James Cameron and his producing partner Jon Landau -- the team behind the 2009 cinematic blockbuster "Avatar" -- will serve as creative consultants, working with Walt Disney Imagineering to bring the fantasy world of Pandora and the broader Avatar universe to Disney's parks throughout the world.

Ground-breaking at Animal Kingdom, the newest of four theme parks at the city-sized Walt Disney World in Orlando, is planned for 2013.

"I'm chomping at the bit to start work with Disney's legendary Imagineers to bring our AVATAR universe to life," Cameron said in a statement announcing the deal Tuesday morning. "Our goal is to go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling, and give park goers the chance to see, hear, and touch the world of AVATAR with an unprecedented sense of reality."

Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Jim Gianopulos, whose movie studio financed, marketed and distributed "Avatar," said Disney was a natural choice as a licensing partner because of its global reach and stature. He said the world Cameron envisioned, starting with Pandora and stretching out to include other creatures and settings, is a natural fit for a theme-park experience.

"It lends itself very well, not only to subsequent films, but to be imagined and realized in the parks," Gianopulos said. "Yes, it's creative content. But what it really is is an immersive world. And that's what Disney intends to create."

Cameron's earlier hit film, "Terminator 2," served as the basis for an attraction at several Universal Studios theme parks. Universal was believed to be interested in creating an "Avatar" 4D movie for its parks.

Disney's deal with Cameron grants the entertainment giant exclusive global theme park rights to the "Avatar" franchise. The first film set the box office record for the highest grossing movie, bringing in $2.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Cameron and Fox have already announced they are planning two sequels, the first expected in 2014. 

Tuesday's news comes in response to Universal Studios' success with "Wizarding World of Harry Potter," the themed land based on the popular J.K. Rowling books and Warner Bros. movies. The addition to Universal's Orlando park has boosted attendance and merchandise sales.

"Avatar" is also a fantasy film with similar broad appeal to children and adults.

Tom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement, "Its spectacular settings, intriguing characters, imaginative creatures and strong themes of family and loyalty make it a perfect fit for Disney."

Disney originally had planned to create a land of mythical creatures like dragons as part of Disney's Animal Kingdom, but those plans never materialized and the land remains undeveloped. Although aliens would seem an unlikely addition to Disney's elaborate zoo, the entertainment conglomerate said the Avatar land will emphsize the film's theme of "living in harmony with nature."

Disney has embarked on an aggressive global expansion of its parks in recent years. It is expanding Hong Kong Disneyland with the addition of a Toy Story land, remaking Fantasyland in Orlando and building a 13-acre Cars Land attraction to Disney California Adventure in Anaheim. The company also is  planning a new theme park in Shanghai, its first in mainland China.

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Brady MacDonald.

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