Friday, August 9, 2013

Newsflash: Avatar Land At Animal Kingdom?!

Let me tell you all a story. When Disney's Animal Kingdom first opened, there was a huge promotion going on at McDonald's. The toys and Happy Meal box both advertised a dragon. Yes, it was a pretty obvious cash grab, but I was young at the time and wanted to see the dragon when I went to Disney World.

Much to my disappointment, the dragon was no longer there when I arrived- or, rather, it had never really been there. The area focusing on mythical creatures had been removed in favor of providing the real creatures with better care. The park was still fun, and the dragon remained a toy in my reptile drawer and little more.

Now they're at risk of doing that again. Behold, project Avatar Land:

Let me make one point perfectly clear: I am not objecting to an Avatar theme park. Given that Avatar had an extremely impressive world, it makes perfect sense to make a theme park around that.  However, it does not belong in Animal Kingdom, despite having spectacular otherworldly fauna and a strong conservation message. Both of these points would backfire, potentially costing Disney just as much as the dragon would have. Assuming they have the same rationale as before, they should not go ahead with Avatar Land.

It is not that I do not see why Disney decided to put Avatar in Animal Kingdom to begin with. There are two reasons that I can see Avatar fitting in at Animal Kingdom: the pseudoscience that went into Pandora and the conservation message present in the movie. I cover pseudoscience a la Mermaids: The Body Found on this blog, which one could argue Avatar is an extension of. Even so, both of these reasons fall flat when one considers that this is Avatar we are dealing with.

As many previous entries may tell you, I love pseudoscience. Avatar is loaded with amazing pseudoscience that no doubt had thousands of hours funneled into it. They thought long and hard about almost everything, from Na'vi traditions to animal habits to evolutionary things and skeletons. Banshees, for example, evolved from a fishlike ancestor, and the evidence can be found in their odd jaws. That's pretty cool. So, let's say it again: pseudoscience is fun.

The problem is that it is indeed Avatar we are dealing with. Much of the pseudoscience behind Avatar is based on either extinct life or deepsea life. Bioluminescence, while not impossible to come by in shallow waters, is largely reserved for abyssal creatures. Said creatures do not do well on land, and cannot be kept in normal fishtanks. The use of an extinct or nonexistent animal to support conservation speaks for itself. (Yes, save the endangered dragon!) While they could put in, say, a black leopard because it's similar to Thanator, the point still might not come across; ultimately, we're talking about different creatures. Pandora is its own world with its own ecology. In short, this point bites itself nicely on its own rear end.

Going back to the point earlier, then, about the area on mythical creatures that was scrapped: I'm still bummed about it, but agree with Animal Kingdom's decision to retcon it in favor of providing a better experience for the animals. It's hard to use mythical animals to push any sort of environmental theme. Yes, I've used mythical creatures to help illustrate a point or two, usually citing real creatures as a basis for, say, wyverns. With Avatar, it's a tiny bit harder to do that; try and explain to a kid that a flying fish in a tank is a potential ancestor for the Banshee. (That said, it would be kind of awesome if they used Stitch to help preserve the unique flora and fauna of Hawaii. That I could see working much better than Avatar, if only because Stitch started as an alien lifeform and found true happiness on good ol' Earth. "Help keep Stitch's home beautiful!"- watch, kids will be throwing pennies in and recycling like crazy.) As long as you can make the connection really, really well, it's still doable...but Avatar has been confirmed not to do it.

The other point, conservation, has an ironic hypocrisy that is not related to the use of nonexistent species at all. Contrary to Cameron's intent, Pandora made people care less about the environment, perhaps in part because the message was so poorly delivered. People committed suicide because they felt their world was "gray" in comparison to Pandora. That should be enough to tell someone that their message isn't getting across. The message did not get across, and the writers were beating the audience over the head with it. That is how poorly-communicated it was. People didn't start planting trees after seeing the movie; they wondered when Avatar the MMO was coming out. The world was actually so awesome that the message to save our world almost got lost.

How could it fail? One reviewer said that Avatar was an event, like when Star Wars first appeared in theaters. This is more or less true. We were meant to experience Pandora as opposed to paying attention to the thin storyline or characters. That was the biggest strength of the movie. This makes it prime amusement park fodder...but its ideal setting is most likely not Animal Kingdom.

Rather, the better bet may have been to pitch the idea to Universal Studios. Not only does Universal already have some deals with 20th Century Fox under their belts, but the whole theme of the park is "ride the movies." I have zero doubt that this is exactly what Avatar Land would entail - the experience of Pandora all over again, complete with riding a Banshee in an awesome flight simulator. That would be cool, and I would be all for it. As for Disney? Look into making working Keyblades for VR Kingdom Hearts.

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