056_Colors_of_Mo'ara

Colors of Mo’ara / Swotu Waya

On the day we were there, Na’vi River Journey had a standby wait of over an hour and a half. The line stretched back all the way to Colors of Mo’ara, a small station where guests can have their faces painted blue or done up in other colorful designs.

This station is said to be “run by local expats,” humans living on Pandora. As it turns out, there are a lot of those now — and not so many Na’vi. In fact, outside the land’s two rides, seeing another guest with their face painted blue is probably the closest you will come to encountering one of the natives.

In that respect, walking around Pandora almost feels like riding Snow White’s Adventures back in the day. At the Magic Kingdom, the Snow White’s Adventures attraction was notable for its curious lack of Snow White. Instead, guests would take on Snow White’s POV and encounter a succession of scenes based around the Witch.

In the same way, guests visiting Pandora wind up seeing the Na’vi’s POV more than the Na’vi themselves. Chalk it up to the gangly height of the natives, which makes it somewhat impractical to design movie-accurate greeting costumes for them.

While there are no Na’vi character greetings, there is some atmosphere entertainment, in the form of a Na’vi Drum Ceremony. Again, this is conducted by humans: one musicologist, one first-generation Pandoran, and another expat, according to Disney Parks Blog.

The three drummers assemble at a spot called Swotu Waya, meaning, “sacred place of song.” Here the drums are nested within gigantic roots.

064_Pongu_Pongu

Pongu Pongu

Outside this drink stand, which serves bioluminescent beverages, a derelict exoskeleton stands guard. Though it may bring to mind Aliens again, what with its mild resemblance to Ripley’s power loader, it is actually one of the AMP suits (AMP stands for “Amplified Mobility Platform”) leftover from the RDA’s time on Pandora.

Beside the exoskeleton and drink stand, you can see a rusty gate with an RDA logo on it and the label “Mine Access Road.” This serves as a subtle reminder of the dreaded (or perhaps just dreadful) word “unobtainium:” the term for the natural resource that the RDA was attempting to mine at the expense of Pandora’s natural beauty.

Speaking of goofy words, “Pongu Pongu” is apparently the Na’vi phrase for “party party.” Throughout Pandora, guests are encouraged to brush up on their Na’vi terminology. The Shaman of Songs and Swotu Waya drummers sing to “Eywa,” the Na’vi deity, while signs instructs guests in the ways of saying, “Oel ngati kameie,” or “I see you.”

Of course, that infantile catchphrase was never the best movie quote. It sounded more like something a parent playing peek-a-boo with a toddler would say.

The act of perpetuating such baby talk is where a non-fan of Avatar the movie might find themselves chafing against the World of Avatar a little. Still, Pongu Pongu serves frozen cocktails, which is always a plus on a hot summer day. The drink stand is run by yet another human expat, which makes me wonder how cool it would be if they actually had a Na’vi bartender instead?

077_Satu'li_Canteen

Satu’li Canteen

Housed within a former RDA mess hall, which has since been converted into a spacious hut, this eatery serves (according to the Walt Disney World website) “wholesome grains, fresh vegetables, and hearty proteins … a unique, fast-casual menu that’s been crafted from Pandora’s natural abundance.”

Inside, there are crafts on display, and more handwoven decorations can be seen hanging from the ceiling. The two main lunch/dinner entrees at Satu’li Canteen are steamed pods (buns similar to the Japanese snack nikuman) and meat, fish, or vegetarian bowls. You can also quench your thirst with a Pandoran Sunrise, a tropical juice concoction that comes with an optional upcharge for a Na’vi Flute Cup…which is really just a cheap plastic souvenir that will set you back nine dollars.

090_Windtraders

Windtraders

Speaking of souvenirs, Windtraders is the resident gift shop in Pandora. This is another place where you can see Na’vi markings on RDA metal and other signs of civilization having been reclaimed by the wild.

Highlights at Windtraders include a corner where guests can adopt their own interactive banshee toy; an overgrown root in the middle of the store where guests can build their own Na’vi necklace; and a station where guests can have an avatar action figure designed based on their own unique likeness. Both the banshee and the action figure come with a hefty price tag, but for those looking to take home less expensive souvenirs, there are plenty of other merchandise options, such as Pandora – The World of Avatar T-shirts.

092_Pandora_by_Twilight

Pandora by Twilight

After dark, Pandora comes to life in a different way, as its various bioluminescent species start glowing. The only way the beauty of all this gets slightly undermined is by pollution in the sky, which becomes more visibly pronounced the darker it gets.

Disney Tourist Blog has pointed out that Pandora is close to Animal Kingdom’s parking lot, and so there is a lot of sodium vapor, which turns the night sky a sickly shade of orange. On the one hand, it “adds to the surreal appearance of this alien landscape,” just as Disney Tourist Blog points out. On the other hand, it serves as a reminder of the industrial world, which runs somewhat contrary to the conservationist message of Animal Kingdom.

That message does shine though in Pandora, albeit in more understated ways, ones that frantic tourists who are not attuned to background details might very well miss. Speaking subjectively, yours truly found himself dwelling on conservationism more after hearing the tour guide on Kilimanjaro Safaris tout the Disney Conservation Fund.

Though the movie franchise has been dormant for a few years, Avatar is not going away anytime soon. With the opening of this theme park land, and no less than four film sequels scheduled for release from 2020 to 2025, we could be looking at a major resurgence for this intellectual property. Canny businessman that he is, James Cameron may have found a foolproof way to ensure the legacy of his fictional world, just at the point when it seemed the moviegoing public had given up caring about it. Now, suddenly, people with no great desire to ever watch the film Avatar again may find themselves curious to revisit it.

In a way, Pandora – The World of Avatar almost retroactively makes the film better, insofar as it reinstates the thrill factor and nearly makes the weak plot seem more forgivable. Essentially, it is what Star Wars toys were to a whole generation of kids. It is a way to join in the world-building by staging your own adventures.

No one ever doubted that Avatar was an amazing visual achievement. But perhaps the reason that an arguably third-rate sci-fi flick about blue-skinned aliens became such a cultural phenomenon years ago is because it was buoyed by the fad of 3-D in a way that was actually meaningful. When people put on those 3-D glasses, they were fully, almost forcefully, engaged by the movie they were watching.

On the second to last day of the ’00s, The New York Times website published an article about the future of film called “Floating in the Digital Experience.” In that article, writer Manohla Dargis talked about how we had reached the end of “a decade when watching movies became an increasingly solitary affair, something between you and your laptop.”

That trend has only exacerbated in the 2010s. And now Avatar is here again, to re-engage spectators in a new, exciting manner, and in doing so affirm what Dargis called “the deep pleasures of the communal.” Phoning in the story in favor of immersive thrills already made the movie the perfect fodder for a theme park land. In 2017, Avatar’s nascent presence at Animal Kingdom has enabled it, once again, to do what any good bit of escapist entertainment should do, and transport you to another world.

Pages: Previous page 1 2

Cool Posts From Around the Web: