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'Avatar' attraction coming to Disney parks

LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Co. has struck a deal to bring the fantasy world of Avatar to its theme parks, starting with a multi-attraction themed land at Disney's Animal Kingdom near Orlando.

Director James Cameron and producing partner Jon Landau — the team behind the 2009 cinematic blockbuster Avatar — will serve as creative consultants, working with Walt Disney Imagineering to bring the fantasy world of Pandora and the broader Avatar universe to Disney's parks throughout the world.

A groundbreaking at Animal Kingdom is planned for 2013.

"I'm champing at the bit to start work with Disney's legendary Imagineers to bring our Avatar universe to life," Cameron said in announcing the deal Tuesday morning. "Our goal is to go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling and give parkgoers the chance to see, hear and touch the world of Avatar with an unprecedented sense of reality."

Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Jim Gianopulos, whose movie studio financed, marketed and distributed Avatar, said Disney was a natural choice as a licensing partner because of its global reach and stature. He said the world Cameron envisioned, starting with Pandora and stretching out to include other creatures and settings, is a natural fit for a theme park experience.

"It lends itself very well, not only to subsequent films, but to be imagined and realized in the parks," Gianopulos said.

Disney's deal with Cameron grants the entertainment giant exclusive global theme park rights to the Avatar franchise. The first film set the box office record for the highest-grossing movie, bringing in $2.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Cameron and Fox have already announced they are planning two sequels, the first expected in 2014.

The news comes in response to Universal Studios' success with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the themed land based on the popular J.K. Rowling books and Warner Bros. movies. The addition to Universal's Orlando park has boosted attendance and merchandise sales. Avatar is also a fantasy film with similar broad appeal to children and adults.

Tom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement, "Its spectacular settings, intriguing characters, imaginative creatures and strong themes of family and loyalty make it a perfect fit for Disney."

Disney originally had planned to create a land of mythical creatures such as dragons as part of its Animal Kingdom, but those plans never materialized, and the land remains undeveloped. Although aliens would seem an unlikely addition to Disney's elaborate zoo, the entertainment conglomerate said the Avatar land will emphasize the film's theme of "living in harmony with nature."

'Avatar' attraction coming to Disney parks 09/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 10:21am]
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