Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Avatar Construction - Step One About to Start

The Cast Member online "portal" (employee-only Web site) reported this week that the shop Beastly Bazaar will be converted to an air-conditioned character greeting location. Beastly Bazaar will close on August 12. 

On the surface of things, this is quite positive. Disney's Animal Kingdom (DAK) has always suffered from its reputation as a "hot" park, since so few attractions and experiences make use of air conditioning. In that sense, this move seems fan-friendly.

There have been other changes to characters lately in DAK. Goofy can only be seen in Dinoland, and his former home in Camp Minnie-Mickey is presently used for King Louie and Baloo. Some of the other DAK-specific characters (Thumper, Timon, Daisy, Meeko) are no longer appearing.

Insiders whisper that the Beastly Bazaar location will be used for the Camp Minnie-Mickey characters, meaning that land will be left vacant.

What's behind all this? Avatar. This mega-expansion of DAK will add a new land, rumored to cost up to $500 million, and is slated to open by 2016, when the first of the Avatar sequels (there may be up to three sequels in total) will be in theaters. The timing was carefully chosen to open the land when the Avatar hype will likely be at a fever pitch, and will hopefully intensify as further Avatar sequels are released.

Disney hasn't admitted publicly that Avatar is behind the move, but there seems little doubt. Disney would not spend the money to refurbish a perfectly good (not to mention profit-generating) store unless they had some other plan for the land where the characters are now, in Camp Minnie-Mickey.

Festival of the Lion King would have to move if Avatar comes here; it's likely to end up in Africa.

For a new land on the scale of Avatar to open by 2016, construction and land clearing will have to start by 2013, maybe a touch into 2012. Disney has not said publicly where the land will be located, but several insiders report that after flirting with an expansion plot behind Kali River Rapids, planners have settled on the Camp Minnie-Mickey plot, as well as some additional land just outside Camp Minnie-Mickey that was held in reserve for the original idea for this corner of the park, Beastlie Kingdomme (Camp Minnie-Mickey was always meant to be temporary).

The additional land (marked in red in the map above, versus yellow for Camp Minnie-Mickey) has the added bonus that it sits up against the parking lot. If the attractions are laid out just right, perhaps they can allow visitors to stay late in this land alone while the rest of the park closes, and then be funneled out directly to the parking lot. DAK can finally be a late-night park instead of just a half-day park.

Thus, this move of the characters out of the hot August air is not really about air conditioning and Guest service. It's about tall blue aliens with horse tails. It's the first of what is sure to be many reports of construction and groundwork being done for the Avatar expansion, rumored to be the last big expansion in Walt Disney World (and all stateside parks) for quite a while.

And so it begins!

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.