It’s official: space tourism outside our own solar system begins this May 27…
Well, at least to Pandora – The World of Avatar, the new land of Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The date was announced by Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, during the Q1 FY17 Earning call.
Remember that what was called ‘ Avatar Land ‘ is quite an old project, as it was officially announced in September 2011. James Cameron, the director of the movie Avatar, is of course associated, and famous imagineer Joe Rohde is at the helm of the Disney team responsible for this $500 million dollar project in Florida.
A land based on a non-Disney movie
A lot has already been written about the immersive environment that is being created (the floating mountains are even visible from the parking lot) and the two attractions: Flight of Passage (a sort of Soarin’ attraction, but in 3D, where you ride a Banshee – the dragon-like creatures of Pandora) and Na’vi River Journey (a boat ride to discover the marvels of the bio-luminescent nature of Pandora).
In the Disney video below, Joe Rohde and James Cameron talk about the coming land and you can also get some interesting views of what to come.
There have been debates about the idea of making a land themed to the blockbuster movie (with $2.7 billion dollars at the worldwide Box Office, it’s still the all time n°1) and why Disney was using a story line that it didn’t own by itself (Avatar rights are the property of 20th Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment). However, given the strong environmental message of the movie, Disney argued that it was in line with Animal Kingdom.
From war to eco-tourism
This is not however the biggest problem of the Avatar franchise. If you think for a minute about the plot of the movie, you can say that it is not suitable for a family-oriented land in a Disney theme park… Avatar is a war movie where humans do not have a good role. Humanity is mining Pandora, the moon of a giant gas planet in the Alpha Centauri system, to bring back to Earth the unobtainium, a superconductor mineral that is mandatory to sustain our civilization. And from what we see at the beginning of the film (especially the extended version), our Earth is now a rather ugly planet. Jake Sully, the hero, betrays the Humans and help the Na’vis (the blue feline humanoid creatures). Can you imagine a land where families are in the middle of a battle between aliens and Humans? Or worse, rides where kids and their parents kill human soldiers to free Pandora and the Na’vis? Very bad ideas and totally non-Disney!
So, the smart twist from Disney was to set the Pandora land in Animal Kingdom a century (or more?) AFTER the events of the movie. Relations between Humans and Na’vis are now peaceful up to the point that Earthlings can travel to Pandora for tourism. This is why the official website of Pandora – The World of Avatar is called visitpandora and the home page states ‘Travel to Pandora with Alpha Centauri Expeditions.’ Alpha Centauri is a stellar system that does exist. A triple star system, it is also the nearest from our planet at ‘only’ 4.4 light-years. That means that traveling at light speed (186,000 miles per second!), something that is the realm of SF, you will need 4.4 years to get there. Our fastest space probe could do the trip in 78,000 years…
With its peaceful tourism take on Pandora, Disney is also playing on the fascination for space travel and space tourism. The latter being a tendancy with companies like Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin that want to sell, in the coming years, space tourism flights, but only suborbital flights above 100 km (the frontier of space) or, later, orbital flights around the Earth. Prices are going to be very high (Virgin Galactic stated that its first suborbital flights will cost $250,000 per passenger).
With Pandora Disney brings, of course, a false space travel, but where families are going to be able to do a trip that is simply impossible right now and unfortunately also for eons. This is confirmed by the background storytelling of the land that is mandatory for Disney. Thus, the Pandora official website is like the one from the Alpha Centauri Expeditions company, your space tourism agency. The ‘About Us’ page describes people (Humans) that will help you discover (and respect of course) the marvels of Pandora. Two sentences tell it all: ‘until recently, deep space travel was only an adventure traveler’s dream’ and ‘we look forward to helping you discover the wondrous beauty that the world of Pandora has to offer.’
By adding the environmental message of Animal Kingdom mixed with the one from Avatar the movie, the war theme is forgotten for a more friendly eco-tourism one… and above all a more Disney one!