Leave it to Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) to milk the most out of its captive ABC-viewing audience during the holidays. The media giant aired The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration over the weekend, its annual celebrity-laden Christmas special. Tucked away in the seasonal pageantry was a clip offering up more details for Pandora -- The World of Avatar, the ambitious expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom that's now just months away from opening to the public.
The theme park land has taken a long time to come around. Disney and Avatar director James Cameron announced their partnership more than five years ago, while 2009's box office smash Pandora was still fresh in the minds of movie goers. It will seem like an odd cinematic property to play up in a theme park when Pandora -- The World of Avatar opens next summer, but Cameron is working on a sequel that should hit theaters come 2018 to refresh interest in the franchise.
It's important to remember that Disney inked the deal with Cameron because it didn't feel as if it had a homegrown property that could take on the transformative nature that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter has had at Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Orlando resort. The 2010 opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a game changer, leading to Universal Orlando narrowing the attendance gap with Disney World in every passing year. Comcast would export the concept to its theme parks in California and Japan. Cameron's Avatar offered Disney a large canvas to dream up a new land, even if the franchise lacked the timelessness of Potter.
Pandora and its charms
Disney's new clip continues to play up the floating mountains that have been visible to park guests for more than a year and the bioluminescent rainforest that will glow for passengers on Na'vi River Journey, the boat ride that will serve as one of the two main rides. However, the new footage plays up the synchronized nature of all of the new land's vibrant faux landscaping. There was also some footage of Avatar Flight of Passage, the thrill ride that will give Disney's Animal Kingdom another white-knuckled attraction to woo teens and jaded patrons that mistakenly view the park as a glorified zoo. Cameron also promises a breathtaking surprise at the end of Na'vi River Journey.
There's a lot riding on Pandora -- The World of Avatar. It's the only major addition to Disney World's theme parks in 2017. As Comcast aggressively builds out new attractions to keep guests coming back, Disney's been investing in smart-band technology to give guests new ways to enjoy old attractions. Disney World already suffered a rough fiscal 2016 in terms of attendance, and how well its fares in 2017 will rely greatly on market excitement for Pandora. There's not a lot of buzz out there now, but that's why Disney is so smart to try to play things up during Sunday's Christmas special. Reaching millions if not tens of millions of viewers in late December -- when they are just starting to map out their travel plans for the 2017 summer season -- is important. If Disney's crafty marketing is on target it won't just be Pandora's bioluminescent plants that will be glowing next summer.