2:25 PM EDT, September 21, 2011
Tuesday’s big announcement from Disney that it is partnering with James Cameron to bring his film Avatar to life at Walt Disney World caused me to question right away: Is Avatar kid-friendly enough to be a Disney hit?
While it was a record-grossing film heralded for its stunning special effects, it didn’t strike me as the kind of story kids, teens or adults will latch onto and become fanatics of in the way they have embraced so many other Disney franchises or licensed intellectual property like the princesses, Cars or Star Wars.
It’s not the first time Disney has ventured into the realm of PG-13 (Some of the Star Wars films had that rating), but it does seem more than the other story lines to hover in some lofty themes that could float right over most kids’ heads.
Of course, this partnership has business merits on several levels. For one thing, Disney sealed up what has been called the most valuable IP out there not already snapped up by a theme park. It also has a firm commitment that a sequel and a third film will be out around the time (or just before) the attraction is slated to open, which should help drive some buzz.
And that works both ways. Cameron gets the marketing muscle of Disney to drive movie-goers interest in the series and help keep the buzz fresh. That’s never a bad thing considering sequels almost never live up to the expectations set by the first films.
The question still centers, though, on whether the story lines are emotional in the right ways to create the kind of fan phenomenon that Disney, no doubt, is hoping for.
When Universal Orlando signed its deal with J.K. Rowling to build a large attraction based on her Harry Potter series, there was already ample evidence that multiple books and films were mega hits. And it had the added bonus of being enormously popular with the tween, teen, young-adult set — a coveted age group in the theme park world.
With Avatar there is just one film to go on — albeit an extremely popular one.
A point in favor of this deal: While Avatar may not resonate as well with the younger set, it may provide Disney some needed demographic diversity. Disney is reworking Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, a project centered on children. Perhaps Avatar will lend Animal Kingdom a draw for older kids and adults.
Like with Potter, its success ultimately will be determined by how well those visual effects and story lines are translated to the animatronic, screen, concrete and foam platforms of a theme park attraction.
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