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Pandora: Striking images (and details!) from the media event


This morning, Disney held a special media preview event for Pandora: The World of Avatar, which opens at Animal Kingdom on May 27. Although usually described as Walt Disney World’s biggest expansion in over a decade, the new theme park land is probably best summed up as Disney’s big, if somewhat delayed, answer to Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – and with all of the photos, videos, and details coming out of the various media outlets that were assembled today in the area, it’s easy to see how the Boy Who Lived is precisely what Disney Parks and Resorts is going after in one of its most ambitious projects in its entire 62-year history.

When combined with some other tidbits that have officially been coming out of the Mouse House, we can paint a very vivid – if still incomplete – picture of what kind of theming Pandora will have to offer guests starting next month. Let’s dive into it and see how the rules of the theme park game just might be getting rewritten yet again.

The secrets of immersion

When you enter the Valley of Mo’ara – the area that, essentially, all of Avatar Land is situated within – you are completely surrounded by the larger-than-life alien foliage and the still-larger floating mountains. But while the scenery is immersive all on its own, it’s the soundscape that will put it over the theming top; the valley will contain a soundtrack of various animal noises that will continually change over the course of the day. Expect to hear different types of creatures enter, prowl around, communicate with one another, and then leave as the day progresses – and then, at night, expect to see the various bioluminescent plants respond to the just-out-of-sight animals as they walk by. Although all of this has been previously disclosed by Disney, the reports from the journalists on-site conclude that the effect is, indeed, very effective.

Another neat touch can be found in a “Na’vi-built drum circle” which contains “instruments playable by all,” as the Mouse officially describes it. Indeed, in between performances by cast members, guests themselves can pick the instruments up and play them, thereby causing certain sounds (or bioluminescent sights, if at night time) to be triggered. Think of this as being the equivalent of the Wizarding World’s interactive spell-casting locations – the first of what we’re presuming will be many.

And, finally, we’ve received confirmation of another little detail that we’ve previously discussed: the MagicBand sensors spread throughout Pandora won’t sport the familiar Mickey Mouse ears that can be seen everywhere else at the resort. While by no means a major point of theming, it does help reinforce – if only subconsciously – that you have truly stepped into an entirely different land, if not planet.

How many more subtle touches are there? Some of the reporting coming out of this morning’s event have hinted at a few more thematic flourishes, but we’re guessing that a goodly number of them are being kept in surprise for when visitors first arrive for themselves. We can’t wait to see what they are.

Pandora’s queues

Far more noticeable, of course, are the details located in the queues for the land’s two attractions, the Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage. The latter has as its basic premise the “matching” of an avatar to each individual rider, a process which will then enable guests to experience flight on the back of a banshee. This backstory is brought to vivid life in the form of a nine-foot-tall audio-animatronic Na’vi that is “asleep” in a tube, awaiting its pairing with a human rider. The image, obviously, hails directly from Avatar, and it looks almost identical to its originating film – the alien body bobs, twitches, and otherwise moves as if it really were suspended in fluid and really were asleep, waiting to be woken up.

There are, of course, other, smaller details distributed throughout the queue. Various murals drawn by the Na’vi depict the majesty of the titular banshees or show the relative sizes of the creatures to both themselves and their human visitors. Old labs from the Resources Development Administration (the bureaucratic bad guys from the movie) sprout up here and there, along with totems the Na’vi have made to honor the banshees (and which serve to denote the ride’s entrance, confirming another long-circulating rumor).

A quick peek at Satu’li Canteen

Although not that many outlets were reporting their impressions of the food and beverage samples they were offered today, plenty of further theming touches were recorded and added to our ever-growing index of how Pandora’s Imagineers are working their storytelling magic.

To wit: the front part of Satu’li Canteen, the World of Pandora’s restaurant, is an old RDA base that has been overhauled for this new communal, “eco-tourism” purpose. Na’vi cultural items – such as kitchen utensils – decorate the walls, and, in keeping with Universal’s latest emphasis on having open kitchens for all of its new venues in CityWalk, Satu’li will also allow patrons to watch the chefs in action.

(For even more on Satu’li, its food, and its ordering processes, please see our articles on its unusual desserts and potentially revolutionary Mobile Ordering.)

Tonight will hold another media event, where select journalists can experience Pandora: The World of Avatar’s bioluminescent glory. Stay tuned for more details and analysis.

And in the meantime, be sure to follow Orlando Informer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest news, tips, and rumors at Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, and other Orlando attractions.

(Featured image credit: Sandra Pedicini)

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The 8 must-read stories for April 2017

Neil @ 04/30/2017 12:36

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About Marc N. Kleinhenz

Marc N. Kleinhenz is the former editor of Orlando Informer.

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