When the news broke that "Pandora--The World of Avatar" would be added to Disney's Animal Kingdom (DAK), it was the sort of unexpected news that made people gasp, partly because of how closely held the secret was. Usually there are leaks and rumors in advance of the big announcements, at least within the fan community.
Those leaks and rumors have been filtering out for some time now that Pandora was having trouble getting traction, and certainly nothing has progressed in terms of construction. That said, the location was chosen: Camp Minnie-Mickey, currently home to characters greeting trails and the Festival of the Lion King show. Both of those are now slated to be moving out (Lion King is likely to land in a new theater in Africa, not yet built, while the characters are moving to a shop called Beastly Bazaar near the Tree of Life).
On September 4, IGN ran a story that said the next Avatar movies are delayed, and that Cameron was having creative differences with Walt Disney Imagineering over the upcoming land. Uh-oh. This sort of report is often the harbinger that the project is dead (or soon will be), and the announcement is a "softening blow." IGN did not say the project is dead (merely speculating that it may be delayed), but in the modern era of social media and the news cycle, this is often how deals "die" publicly, with a small step like this occurring first.
In a matter of highly suspicious timing, there are ALSO rumors heating up at the same time that the very successful Cars Land in Disney's California Adventure (DCA) may be heading to Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS), to replace Lights Motors Action (it may or may not affect Backlot Tram Tour - those rumors are inconsistent). Those rumors come from inside sources, many of whom are trusted, so it appears to have weight.
Late yesterday, I heard my own confirmation (in fact, confirmed in two different ways) that Cars Land appears to be a "go", but I cannot provide other specifics. It looks like Cars Land really will be coming to DHS.
Now, this will take some time. Probably two to three years until it's done. By then, the "attendance damage" to DCA will be more minimal, because those who want to rush out to see it will have done so by then.
Put the two news stories together, and you've got a case of very interesting timing. Has Disney been rushing Cars Land into place because they knew internally that Pandora was having creative troubles? After all, they don't need to wait to read about it in IGN - they are living it in Glendale. In many ways this sort of thing is exactly what Disney does. When they run into trouble with one external collaborator, they reach for a backup plan--and they happen to have a highly successful one right in their back pocket, ready to go.
As it stands now, Pandora: The World of Avatar is still greenlit... it's just moving VERY slowly. Anything can happen, including the possibility that we get BOTH lands.
As we're dealing with unannounced projects, rumors, and speculation here, this story may need to be updated as more information becomes available.
9/5/12 at 12:30pm - altered description of affected DHS area, adjusted wording on confirmation of Cars Land from sources.
Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.