Sorry, Not Even Pandora Can Make Me Like Avatar

Avatar In Flight of Passage queue

Don’t feel bad, Joe Rohde! You clearly did everything you could. Sadly, not even the most elite team of Imagineers can cut through my hatred of Avatar. As evidence, I submit to you the entirety of Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


To lay out my thesis, I shall quote myself:

Look, here’s the thing: when it comes to immersive theme, I am highly suggestible. For example, I am probably the only millennial alive today who thinks Harry Potter is, like, fine or whatever. Yes, I read all the books, and I can still take him or leave him. Yet I can get HYPE for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter because it’s so freaking good at creating an exciting atmosphere. I left Universal that first time with a Ravenclaw scarf. Why?

Fast forward a decade or so and ya girl is wandering through Batuu/Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for the first time and digging it. The ambience is undeniable. By the time I left Oga’s Cantina I was ready to buy a droid and tell everyone I met to ignite the spark.

Has Star Wars media risen in my estimation? Eh, not really. I like it slightly better than Potter but it’s still firmly in my personal “fine” territory. But then I ride Rise of the Resistance again and I’m back aboard the hype train. (Oddly enough, this principle does not seem to apply to Pandora, but we’ll explore that anomaly at a later date.)

Good news, everyone! That later date is now!

Avatar headbonking risk in Pandora's Flight of Passage

Disclaimer, because I’ve been to the internet before: if you love Avatar, great! You are a happier person than I am! You have your own special little theme park land! Enjoy that! But let me have my little blog post of complaint. I’m Eastern European on my mother’s side; complaining is my birthright.


I saw the first Avatar movie in theaters when it first came out. There was a lot of hype, and as a corollary to that hype, there were tons of people insisting that it totally lived up to the hype. So my ex and I went to see it.

Avatar Pandora floating mountains

Reader, it DID NOT live up to the hype. Oh my God, I can’t stand Avatar. It is so badly written, the dialogue so lazy, the characters so stock, and that’s without even taking into account any white savior allegories. I vividly remember the scene where Jake first gets caught in espionage and tries to convince Neytiri* that he’s switched allegiances, and the reason I vividly remember it is because I rolled my eyes so hard the action solidified the kinetic memory. From then all, all eyerolls were born from that eyeroll. It was Eyeroll Mother.

* Full disclosure: I had to double check her name. You know, Zoe Saldana. She could be the best dancer in the American Ballet Academy, but her attitude keeps getting in the way.

With Harry Potter and Star Wars, I at least respect the source material even if it’s not entirely to my personal taste. Avatar is objectively bad.


And so you may imagine when Pandora: The World of Avatar was announced for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I was none too thrilled. Aside from my dislike of the source material, it barely made sense to me as a land in my favorite park. Like, okay, conservation or whatever, but we couldn’t have communicated that message with, y’know, real animals?

(Speculative answer: Disney was desperate to find something to compete with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal and glommed onto the first available franchise-on-the-cusp it could grab.)

Avatar Pandora mobile suit

But that’s okay – this is Imagineering we’re talking about. If anyone could turn a leaden source into theme park gold, it would be these creative alchemists, no? When Pandora finally debuted, it sounded like they’d done it, too: the reviews waxed lyrical about the immersive theme, with particular laurels laid at the base of the banshee flight simulator and bioluminescent details. Despite everything, I let my hopes rise.


Seriously, I just don’t get it. Pandora just… doesn’t take me anywhere. Sure, it looks cool, just like the movie looks cool, but there’s no there there.

Avatar, and by extension Pandora, lacks the depth of lore that the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises provide. Even if you’ve never engaged with either media, both have seeped into pop culture to such a degree that you’d have to really duck and move to avoid learning something about it. You automatically approach from a place of familiarity.

Even if you did manage to pull a Tarzan and give both series a miss, the way the mythology gets baked into the Imagineers’* storytelling would inform your understanding all the same. It’s not always about blatantly explaining a full narrative to the audience. Sometimes just having that story in the background adds layers and depth that are felt in the bones even if they aren’t synthesized into a plot in the mind.

* And/or whatever Universal calls its designers. Artstronauts. I don’t know.**
** The internet seems to suggest Universal Creatives? Universal Creative Team? I’m sticking with Artstronauts.

WDW trip report - Batuu gift shop

Meanwhile, Avatar and its sequel made billions upon billions of dollars in theaters and yet still never seemed to penetrate the collective consciousness. Google “Why does Avatar have no cultural footprint?” and you’ll find scores of hits across video, press, and social media.

People know the Avatar basics, but most would be hard pressed to name you a main character. No popular slang has emerged. I myself can’t recall ever having seen a single person wearing an Avatar t-shirt outside of a Disney park. It’s like the movies are being beamed in from a parallel universe.


Okay, this is a Disney parks blog, so let’s circle back to Pandora.

Of course Flight of Passage is pretty cool. The Imagineers took their triumph of Soarin’ and plussed it with new technology. It’s fun! Although I genuinely thought Dr. Jackie Ogden in the preshow was Sigourney Weaver’s character with a new actor, not a new person entirely. What is Weaver’s character’s name in the movie? Beats me.

I actually in some ways even prefer Na’vi River Journey – I’m always a sucker for a good dark ride. It could definitely stand to be about a third longer, though. And as much as I enjoy the bioluminescent sights, I have never felt remotely tempted by a single plush or model in the gift shop. The shoulder banshees are neat but if you sold them at Rennfaire and called them shoulder dragons I’d find that equally credible.

Santuli Canteen is good, but it’s not like it’s food from the movies. Not the way blue milk is from the Star Wars universe or Harry Potter and co are shown drinking butterbeer and eating chocolate frogs.

Cheeseburger pods snack from Santuli Canteen

I think most of the live entertainment has been deep sixed since the pandemic. I remember it as mildly amusing.

The floating mountains are an engineering marvel on paper; they have no effect on me emotionally. The rainforest we already have here on Earth right now is alien enough that the alien rainforest landscape just looks like the rainforest as far as I know. At night, my neurodivergent brain finds the lights and sounds overstimulating. I get lost easily. I don’t like it!!! Tell James Cameron to get off my lawn!!!!!!!


As I noted in my disclaimer above, if you love Avatar and/or Pandora, that’s fantastic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: liking things wins against not liking things. If only I enjoyed Avatar, I too could gaze upon Pandora with wondering eyes. But I don’t, and I don’t. And as Eeyore once so wisely said, we can’t all, and some of us don’t.

If you asked me to watch a Harry Potter movie, I would respectfully decline. The Wizarding World? Gorgeous! Diagon Alley in particular transports me to another realm.

Star Wars? Slightly more than lukewarm on that one, but Batuu is an undeniable Studios highlight. Rise of the Resistance is spectacular.

I’m not even all that big on Marvel movies, yet Cosmic Rewind made me a believer. And I say that as a Universe of Energy apologist.

Meanwhile, tell me I can never set foot in Pandora again and see how upset I get. In fact, if you made me choose for myself which Disney land to be banned from, it might well be my selection. Don’t hold me to that (I haven’t thought it all the way through), but it’s a cinch for the shortlist.

I understand the chain of reasons why the originally planned Beastly Kingdom – land of unicorns, dragons, and other fantasy creatures – never took its rightful place in this space. All I can do at this point is dream of what could have been. I’m sure James Cameron is losing sleep over that. 😅

P.S. If you liked this post, I have an anti-A Quiet Place rant locked and loaded. My DMs are open!

Don’t forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall and on Instagram @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!


  1. I do not love Avatar. Pandora I like but I don’t love it. It’s not much of a compliment to say that the land did come out better than I expected. I do think it’s beautiful, but I agree that it’s missing the true immersion and connection of the other actually good franchises.

  2. I really enjoy reading posts like this one! I’m a huge Star Wars and Harry Potter fan so I love the respective worlds, but most non-fans I know (like my mom) also love these lands despite having no connection to the source material.

    I totally agree with you about Avatar. I do like Pandora quite a bit, but it definitely doesn’t have any emotional resonance for me.

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