Expansive theming creates broad appeal for Disney World’s Pandora


Don’t let the fact that you haven’t seen — or didn’t love — James Cameron’s movie “Avatar” keep you from experiencing Walt Disney World’s amazing addition to Animal Kingdom. If you do, you most definitely will miss out on one of the most beautiful and technologically advanced experiences.

Disney Imagineers have brought to life such creative storytelling that Pandora — The World of Avatar can stand alone and thoroughly wow guests, regardless of whether they are movie fans. And that’s important because the original “Avatar” was released in 2009 and the first of four sequels isn’t due out in theaters for several years.


To step into Pandora — The World of Avatar is to enter a truly immersive environment. (“Immersive” is such a buzzword in the theme-park industry, but in this case, I think it really fits. You DO feel like you are entering another world.) And that other-worldly experience is made possible by the rich back-stories and theming of the land.

Matt Beiler, a principal producer at Walt Disney Imagineering for the Avatar project, recently spoke with local media about the story development for Pandora. Here are some of his descriptions.

What do guests need to know when they travel to Pandora?

When guests enter into this story, it’s a story that’s a generation beyond where the conflict between the humans and the Na’vi has ended [in the movie]. It’s been a full 20 to 30 years since that conflict was resolved and in the time the RDA (that’s the militaristic group that was mining and built facilities all throughout Mo’ara Valley) is long gone. They’re not here.


But in the time since the end of the conflict, Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), an eco-tour group who are our hosts as we enter into Pandora, they’ve come in and set up a number of excursions for us to go on and make sure we have places to eat and places to get supplies for our journey on Pandora.

Cast members on Pandora are different from other Disney employees in many ways, but one is that each has his or her own personal back-story. Guests are encouraged to ask cast members about themselves, which will help them learn about Pandora. What are some of the possible classes of cast members will we meet?

The Pandoran Conservation Initiative — This is a group of scientists and researchers that are studying Pandora and the human destruction that occurred a generation ago and how to resolve that and clean up Pandora. They’re very knowledgeable about the fauna, the flora, the ecology and the culture of the Na’vi. They are able to educate guests about what they are seeing on this planet and how it relates back to our homeland of Earth.


The Ex-Pat Community — This is a group of people who came to Pandora and fell in love with it. They decided to stay here, live their lives here and many of them have even grown up with the Na’vi. You’ll see a number of them operating our carts and smaller shops.

(And, as previously mentioned, the members of Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), which is an eco-tour group and our hosts.)

The FastPass and standby queues for Flight of Passage are chock full of details to support the Pandora theming. So, why does this attraction exist in the storyline?

The Pandoran Conservation Initiative is really visible, and you see what they’re doing in their work on Pandora. They’ve taken over an old RDA research facility, and they’ve reinstated the Avatar program. {An Avatar is created by linking the genetic material of a human and a Na’vi.] Because of that program’s existence, they’re able to study the mountain banshee, which is a keystone species here on Pandora. They see correlation between the mountain banshee population and the effects of the humans’ work of cleaning up Pandora. So they can really see what they’ve done and how it’s helping Pandora. As guests walk through this research facility, they’ll see a number of scientists that have little experiments going on. … You’ll also see an Avatar in an amnio tank. It’s floating.



The Na’vi River Journey is a beautiful boat ride that brings the bioluminescent forest of Pandora to life. Is there other theming created for this attraction?

The Na’vi Shaman of Songs is [a figure who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora and celebrates that beautiful connection through her music]. She’s an amazing audio-animatronic figure — the most advanced that’s been built to date. The fluidity of her movements, the facial expressions she makes, you almost question if that is a real Na’vi. It’s that realistic.


Pandora’s restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, also is beautifully decorated in Earth tones and with plenty of art on display. How does that fit the theming?

Satu’li Canteen was where the RDA’s crew used to eat. It was the mess hall or the commissary that had fallen into disrepair. ACE has redecorated it, sort of more reverent to the Na’vi culture. They’ve displayed a number of Na’vi weavings, artifacts, cooking implements and tools. They are really physically showing that peace-making has happened between the Na’vi and the humans. It’s there that you get to taste the flavors of Pandora. It’s truly an amazing menu. It delights the mouth as well as the eyes.



What is Pongu Pongu?

Pongu Pongu — which in Na’vi means Party, Party — is a refreshment location where one of our ex-pats came to Pandora with RDA and decided to stay because he fell in love with it. He was an AMP (Amplified Mobility Platform)-suit mechanic. He’s parked his AMP-suit out in front of his establish and it’s here that you’re able to come and wet your whistle.

Windtraders, also known as the Pandora gift shop, doesn’t look like a typical Walt Disney World gift shop. Why is that?

Windtraders is an old RDA storage facility and it’s also been redecorated to be more reverent to the Na’vi. It’s here that you’re able to come and get a lot of the supplies that you’ll need while you’re on Pandora. It has a number of elements that really speak to the celebration of the flora and the fauna and the Na’vi culture.


Finally, why is Pandora located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom rather than Hollywood Studios?

That is because it shares the same core values that have been used to guide the development of Animal Kingdom:

** [It celebrates the] intrinsic value of nature
** [It invokes a] personal call to action
** (It creates] transformation through adventure


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