Disney: What Disneyland Did Wrong with Galaxy’s Edge and Pandora

Promotional photo of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for the Disney Parks Blog. Copyright goes to the Walt Disney Company.

Hey! Hallie here!

One of the things I’ve missed the most in lockdown is being able to go to theme parks. I love the immersive feel of most theme parks, Disneyland included. But Disneyland has been slipping up with a few of their attempts at more immersive areas. The popularity of “lands” made to fully immerse guests became a theme park trend with the popularity of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Before the Wizarding World, most theme parks stuck with vaguely decorated areas that did transport guests, but not necessarily to anywhere specific. But the specifics proved to be more immersive, and more desired, than what theme parks were already doing. Because of Universal Studios’ growing popularity over the Wizarding World, Disney made their own attempts at creating their own deeply immersive spaces. But their attempts haven’t been that great. And with Universal Studios Tokyo releasing footage of their new Super Nintendo Land, it seems Disney is still far behind in this area. So what went wrong?

Pandora:

To start this out we’re going to look into Disney’s first attempt at a Wizarding World equivalent, the world of Pandora based off of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ movie. The area is beautiful, but it isn’t anywhere near the level of what Universal Studios created. Unsurprisingly, it’s also less popular. It’s first problem is that it’s based off of ‘Avatar’. The movie came out eight years before the opening of the land. By that time most people hadn’t thought about the movie in a while. The majority of Disney Parks fans scratched their heads at this decision. While some ‘Avatar’ fans were still around, most of the general public didn’t even remember the names of the main characters. Unlike Harry Potter, there wasn’t a high demand for really anything that had to do with ‘Avatar’. However, the world of Pandora has always been beautiful. So it wasn’t a surprise when Pandora opened and became one of the most gorgeous parts of Animal Kingdom park.

But then it hit it’s second issue. While Imagineers took major inspiration from the movie, as shown by some of the floating islands you can see in the park, none of it is specifically from the movie. There are references to the movie. Some buildings and decorations look exactly like they came out of the movie. But Pandora is small and disconnected. It doesn’t feel immersive because it doesn’t feel like one place inside of ‘Avatar’, but rather, many places at once. Which is similar to what Disney has done with their parks in the past. Disney is good at creating new areas with fun decorations for fans to notice. But that isn’t really the way to create an immersive land. In order for an area to be immersive it has to look like it came exactly out of the movie. Pandora couldn’t commit enough to being one location to have the details it needed to convince guests they’re walking into a different world. And it doesn’t help when some of your details are glow-in-the-dark additions to the sidewalks that get swept away by Florida rains.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge:

Galaxy’s Edge quite famously fell flat on it’s face when it opened in Disneyland. Disney spent it’s months up until the grand opening of the land telling guests they shouldn’t come because it was going to be too busy. So, naturally, most people listened to them. Disneyland received far less guests than they expected when Galaxy’s Edge opened. When guests actually started visiting, however, most were pretty pleased. It took a few more hints from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It gave guests the opportunity to create their own lightsabers, it committed to one area so that details were more easily added to the space, and Walt Disney World even promised a LARP hotel that would connect directly to Galaxy’s Edge. Super Nintendo World’s design makes Galaxy’s Edge look much less immersive, and that’s because Disney still didn’t listen to what the fans wanted.

Disney’s major problem with Galaxy’s Edge is Batuu. Batuu is the planet they claim each Star Wars land is. It isn’t a planet featured in any Star Wars content aside from some short things they released right before Galaxy’s Edge’s opening. What fans want is a place similar, or even exactly like, what they’ve seen in the movies. That familiarity will make details seem much more impressive, and will make fans feel much more immersed. Disney decided to create their own planet so they didn’t have to worry about re-creating anything, with the excuse that the characters of Star Wars travel to new planets every movie. And while that’s true, there’s a reason why Star Wars fans freak out more when Tatooine shows up in ‘The Mandalorian’ as opposed to a new planet. It’s nostalgic and familiar. Most fans would rather have a real-life Tatooine to walk through than Batuu. On top of that, Batuu is kind of disappointing. When Disney initially spoke about their plans for Galaxy’s Edge, they said they planned each land to be a different planet. Disneyland’s was going to be Batuu and Walt Disney World’s would be an entirely new experience. But somewhere down the line that failed and Disney ultimately didn’t deliver. Both lands are Batuu now, and Walt Disney World doesn’t even have their LARP hotel ready. While it’s amazing to see the Millennium Falcon in person, it’s really one of the only compelling things on Batuu for fans to admire.

What is Universal Studios doing right?

Universal Studios is giving fans what they want. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in real life. Down to each detail. There are even store fronts you can’t walk into, but will reference a small event or detail in the books and movies that will make everything seem more real. On top of that, wands are much easier to afford than lightsabers and they interact with the world around them. A wand can choose you at Ollivander’s, and then you can head over to a chimney to wave your wand and watch fire explode out of the top. Super Nintendo World is the same. You can use wristbands to collect coins and interact with various parts of the park. And while they had to take some liberties with Mario’s world, everything feels like one land. You get from place to place through green pipes, Peach’s castle and Bowser’s castle are almost exactly like what you remember from the games, and the whole area is surrounded by creatures moving around and interacting with each other. Somehow, even though Mario’s world has been changed from game to game and is mostly seen from a side view, Super Nintendo World feels both immersive and nostalgic. Disney should take notes.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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