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Disney to Create Avatar Land at DAK

9/23/11 Well, we didn't see that one coming.

On Tuesday, the Walt Disney Company announced a licensing agreement with James Cameron and others, granting Disney the exclusive global theme park rights to the intellectual property from the movie Avatar and its forthcoming sequels. Disney further announced that the first use of these rights would be a themed land right in our own favorite park, the Animal Kingdom!

"With this agreement, we have the extraordinary opportunity to combine James' talent and vision with the imagination and expertise of Disney, " said Bob Iger. Cameron added, "I'm chomping at the bit to start work with Disney's legendary Imagineers to bring our AVATAR universe to life. " Thomas Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, is similarly excited, saying "We can't wait to give our guests the ability to journey to Pandora and explore the incredible immersive world of AVATAR in person."

This is clearly a response to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the blockbuster multi-ride themed area in Universal's Islands of Adventure park. While Disney had not seen a significant drop-off in park attendance, it is thought that merchandise sales were hit hard. Many guests visited Hogwarts at the beginning of their trips before settling in at Walt Disney World. A few wands, maybe a set of robes, and several butterbeers later, there just wasn't enough cash left to buy Mickey Mouse plushes. By locking up Avatar, Disney not only provides a potentially huge draw to its newest park, but also scuttles the rumored plans for an Avatar ride or themed area at Universal Studios. By making it global and exclusive, Disney has the chance to amortize the initial investment in design (which could be as high as half a billion dollars) over several theme parks, where only construction costs would be recurring.

Perhaps more importantly, the Animal Kingdom is getting the extra attractions it has desperately needed for ten years. While the park beat out Hollywood Studios last year in attendance (for the first time ever), that was more a case of a lower gate at DHS. Now guests will be more willing to go to DAK on short trips, feeling that it is now worth the rather steep price of the third day of park admission. We can also hope that this will mean extended operating hours for the park, especially during the off-season, so that more guests will have the opportunity to wander the lush park in the dark. The return of Evening Extra Magic Hours should also be a consequence.

Groundbreaking is not expected to begin until 2013, with the land opening in 2016. Quite a while to wait, but hopefully it will be worth it. While it is not Beastly Kingdomme, Disney at last is giving us the world that Eisner promised in his dedication: "Welcome to the kingdom of animals...real, ancient, and imagined."

Stay tuned to Since this is easily the biggest news to hit the Animal Kingdom since we founded the website, we will be following all the developments closely over the next five years.

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