Ever since the opening of Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom there’s a question being asked for the guests who experience Flight Of Passage: how does it rank among the other attractions in the resort? Some insiders suggest it quickly became the highest rated attraction in the Animal Kingdom and Walt Disney World, but sometimes these polls are affected by the novelty of the rides. Back in 2015, every time guests asked why the Toy Story Mania Fastpasses runned out so quickly, Cast Members mentioned that it was the most popular attraction in all of Walt Disney World.
Flight Of Passage is a great attraction. I haven’t been able to experience it myself, but there are enough pictures and videos that make it justice. From the queue to the ride vehicle, it shows the attention to detail Imagineers had put thought in the project.
How did Pandora and the attractions were developed? I raised this question after reading Arielle Turan’s article explaining why Flight Of Passage is the best attraction at Walt Disney World in parallel with James Cameron’s recent interview with Vanity Fair.
Both pieces mixed in my mind about the creative process behind the attraction. Some of them may feel like Speculation Town for these answers, but they aren’t in the Uncanny Valley side of things.
From the very beginning, Cameron’s guidance was evident in the Pandora project. He was fully engaged and wanted to be as true to the film as possible. The Imagineers even had to reschedule construction several times. Heck, even the land opened without even the first sequel being released.
With a project of this magnitude, Disney didn’t gamble without having all the cards on the table. There must have been some details regarding the future of the franchise that made Bob Iger and the Imagineering team believe in the project.
So lets dig deeper on Turan’s reasoning behind her article and how this attention to detail could be better explained by considering how the project got developed.
Cameron states a very interesting detail concerning the Avatar sequels:
So when all the scripts were approved, everything was designed. Every character, every creature, every setting. In a funny way it was to the benefit of the film because the design team had more time to work. . . . Most of the actors, the key principals, have all read all four scripts, so they know exactly what their character arcs are, they know where they’re going, they know how to modulate their arc now across the first two films. We all know where we’re supposed to be dramatically in the saga, and that’s great. Let’s face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don’t make enough money, there’s not going to be a 4 and 5. They’re fully encapsulated stories in and of themselves. It builds across the five films to a greater kind of meta narrative, but they’re fully formed films in their own right, unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where you really just had to sort of go, “Oh, shit, all right, well I guess I better come back next year.” Even though that all worked and everybody did.
According to Cameron, most of the pre-production, including scripts have been done years in advance from the sequel’s release.
During this time, Cameron was also collaborating with Walt Disney Imagineering for Pandora. Is it too crazy to say that Imagineering could have had access to the scripts or key plot points of the franchise? When guests enter Pandora, we are able to visit it because of what happens during the sequels. The Avatars and the humans have finally agreed on protecting the environment, allowing guests to visit the place. If WDI is all about the story, then they had information enough to develop the attraction.
Putting aside the scripts, they even could have access to the models from characters and landscapes to be used within the attractions. This could allow Imagineers to be way ahead of the game. Just imagine if some landscapes and creatures that we see in Flight Of Passage make sense as the sequels get released. The attraction could have a new meaning each time because we understand how they fit within the Avatar Cinematic Universe.
Still, there are some details that Imagineering had to create no matter where the sequels are heading. ACE, the travel company that lets guests visit Pandora, is a classic WDI trope used as a vehicle to explain the transition between Animal Kingdom and Pandora.
What we should understand is the deep synergy that we could have on our noses without even noticing. In this sense, Flight Of Passage could be more of a progressive attraction: as we see more sequels, the visuals make sense to us. Also, we might get more emotionally invested in the attraction, raising the bar to those guests that already get teary-eyed in the ride.
Let’s focus on some details of the Flight Of Passage queue, as described by Turan:
You walk through an indoor bioluminescent forest, where the ACE researchers have been studying plant samples and the effects they have on detoxifying the air. Then you enter the lab, where you can see that different experiments on Pandoran creatures are being conducted; signs on the wall describe banshees as keystone species, and why it is important to protect them.
What if we get more details from this laboratory in an Avatar sequel? Can we probably get the identity of the impressive Audio-Animatronic figure from the queue?
And it’s impossible to forget the possible deal of Disney buying 20th Century Fox, the current distributor of the Avatar franchise. Disney isn’t buying the company only for this reason (X-Men is more important), but they might have already a good financial relationship with the studio. Pandora is a great marketing device for the sequels and, if WDI had full access to most pre-production material for the sequels, 20th Century Fox had to be fine with it. In the end, Disney has already spent more money on Avatar than Fox:
You made Titanic for 20th Century Fox, which has been your longtime studio home. And you’re making the Avatar sequels for them, but there are reports now that the Murdochs are interested in selling the movie studio. What would that mean for you and your films?
Probably not that much. I’ve always had a good relationship with Fox. If they sold to Disney that wouldn’t be bad because Disney actually at this point in time has a bigger investment in Avatar than Fox does in terms of spent money.
Because of the Pandora—The World of Avatar themed land at Disney World?
Yeah, exactly. So I get along great with Fox; I’m sure I’d get along great with Disney.
Tuan’s last comments express how it may be a new and shiny attraction, but it’s the heart that makes it popular:
I want to keep being impressed by Disney, and I’m sure when the next shiny new attraction opens, I’ll be impressed with that one as well. However, right now, Flight of Passage manages to be a state of the art attraction with a strong story and emotional heart. This is what keeps the lines long, the FastPasses rare, and people like me gushing about the attraction for years to come.
So yes, Flight Of Passage and Pandora as a whole might be the best project from the Imagineers so far. That shows what happens when the creator of the IP is willing to be involved in the project and appreciates Disney’s blindfolded commitment to a newborn franchise.