Well, I was all ready with a post about the Carousel of Progress and then Disney went and dropped a bomb on us. A very large, very blue James Cameron-y bomb. I’m referring, of course, to the news that Animal Kingdom is finally getting a much-needed expansion in the form of an Avatar Land.
Predictably, the online Disney fan community erupted with howls of outrage. A lot of folks felt that a more original concept would have been better, and that it looked as though Disney were copying Universal by purchasing the rights to a popular franchise and building an area devoted to it. Others complained about Avatar itself, either about its story problems or its PG-13 content. The following short but very funny review nicely sums up how I feel about the film. Watch it, it’s hilarious.
So I am not an Avatar fan. Nevertheless, I had a positive reaction to Disney’s announcement. It addresses maybe the biggest problem on the Florida property: the lack of anything to do at Animal Kingdom. Now I know what you’re thinking: isn’t putting an Avatar Land into Animal Kingdom as thematically retarded as adding the planet Vulcan to EPCOT’s World Showcase? Probably. But since I don’t have the same affection for Animal Kingdom that I have for EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom, I don’t really care. Animal Kingdom’s slate of offerings is so anemic that almost any new additions (excepting an expansion of Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama) are welcome.
But my good feelings about this announcement go beyond the fact that I might actually have a reason to visit Animal Kingdom in five or six years. Along with the multibillion-dollar overhaul of California Adventure and the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion, this latest piece of news seems to signal an important shift in the attitude of Disney management toward the parks. You see, since the late-90s Disney’s philosophy seemed to be that people would flock to the parks no matter what, so there was no need to try overly hard to please their customers. During this period we saw E-ticket attractions closed and replaced either with nothing or substantially inferior substitutes. Worst of all we got two seriously flawed parks: Animal Kingdom-which had roughly the same number of attractions as Adventureland spread out over an area the size of EPCOT, and California Adventure-which seemed as though it were Imagineered by an accountant.
A couple years ago I was pretty sure things would never turn around. Disney seemed content to just crank up the volume on the marketing messages about how “magical” the parks allegedly are and ignore the hole they’d dug themselves into during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. But now things have changed. The company seems to recognize the mistakes that were made and is spending substantial amounts of money to fix them. Are they fixing them in a way that we all agree with? No. But in my mind it’s silly to jump on the anti-Avatar Land bandwagon before we know anything about the place.
And while it’s tempting to make a list of the late-Eisner-era mistakes that Disney needs to fix after Avatar Land opens, right now I’m going to sit back and enjoy the fact that one of my fondest wishes for the property-that Disney would do something to make me want to visit Animal Kingdom-will be fulfilled in just a few years.