The “real” reason is money. Avatar was the highest grossing film of all times, and Disney was looking for a big IP to counter Pottermania at Universal. The fact that Cameron is helping to pay for it is icing on the cake. There are 3 squeals in the works; the first was supposed to open BEFORE the 2017 completion date of the park, but Cameron just announced that it’s been pushed back a year. However, the trailers should be in the theaters before the park opens, so I’m guessing the Disney will be able to leverage some park advertising into the deal.
Fiscal cynicism aside, here is the “justification”. We all call it “Avatarland”, but Disney refers to it as Pandora - the name of the planet. If you look past the one-dimensional characters, the techno-soldiers, and the heavey-handed corporate greed, what the movie is really about is a giant ecosystem, with many levels of interconnections - most of which are not understood by (or of interest to) to those who want to turn the planet into a commercial gold mine. As you journey through the movie, you start to learn about, and gain an appreciation for the species that live on Pandora, so when the destruction occurs at the end, you fel the ramifications. I don’t think it was coincidental that the focus was on the destruction of the great tree; deforestation and the wide-ranging effects that it has on ecosystems s one of the great environmental disasters of our times. One of the main goals of AK (as well as most zoos) is to engender an understanding and appreciation for the animal (and plant) world, to show how man is destroying so much of it, and hoping to change attitudes of a younger generation. For me, Pandora and the allegorical fable of the movie “Avatar” is a perfect thematic fit.
Rumors are that Disney is distancing itself from the plot machinations of the movie, and are creating an immersive and interactive Pandora that you can actually visit; the amazing 3D imagery of the film will become a “4D” park experience. Both announced rides will be “tour” rides of Pandora - one flying (in a Soarin-type simulator) and one on a (PoC-type) boat. Will there me movie plot tie-ins? I don’t know as no details have been released. I’m HOPING that the conservation message is not completely lost. And rumors are that we will see cutting edge technologies beyond anything that has been done before.
“Avatar is not Disney”. Star Wars, Muppets, Indiana Jones, and Twilight Zone were not “Disney” when they first came to the parks. These are now some of the most popular attraction in both WDW and DLR - not to mention in Paris, Tokyo, and China.
There are some very vocal people who did not like the movie and have predetermined they will not like the Pandora addition. I’m not saying that the movie was perfect - far from it. But as a GC hobbyist I found the visuals to be astonishing, and as someone with training in ecology, I found the underlying theme/message of the film to be powerful and well done. If Disney keeps the focus on these two areas, and pulls out all of the technological stops, this may well become the most amazing land in any Disney park.
At least I hope so.