Bob Iger Reveals First Look At ‘Avatar’ Area At Disneyland, Says The Idea That Disney Is Letting NBCU’s Epic Universe Invade Its Orlando Turf “Couldn’t Be Further From The Truth”

After Disney declared victory in its proxy battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz, CEO Bob Iger went on a theme-park offensive during the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

Delivering scripted video remarks from a perch overlooking Disneyland, Iger extolled the parks as a key strategic area of focus and offered a brief first look (see below) at the “possible” new Avatar-themed area at the Anaheim park. Pandora – The World of Avatar, has been up and running at Disney World in Florida for years and Iger said it is the company’s “intention” to make it a new feature of Disneyland. “We’re thrilled about many potential new stories that our guests could experience in Walt’s original theme park, including the opportunity to embark on all-new Avatar adventures with a visit to the world of Pandora,” he said.

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Artist’s rendering of Pandora – The World of Avatar coming to Disneyland. (20th Century Studios and Disney)

While the artist’s rendering is new, the announcement was not. Iger first trumpted what he then called the “Avatar Experience” more than a year ago on the company’s Q1 2023 earnings call. There have been scant new details since, with the imagery released today the only substantial update in the intervening year plus.

The exec also touted a number of theme park initiatives in Florida. The recent settlement of litigation with the special district board selected by Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee the company’s Florida theme park properties will provide a boost, he noted. Disney last fall laid out plans for $60 billion in parks and experiences investments over the next 10 years.

Conducted virtually, the meeting started with business items including elections of members of the board of directors. The Q&A portion of the meeting, often a colorful affair when the gathering is held in person, as costumed Disney fans who own stock get a chance to quiz executives on their plans, was far more tame and controlled this year.

In one of the few moments that didn’t come off as tightly scripted, Iger was pressed by one shareholder (whose question, like others, was read by a Siri-like computerized voice) about the soon-to-be-stepped-up competition in Orlando. NBCUniversal’s Epic Universe, which will open in 2025, will double the company’s footprint in Central Florida.

In preparation, “Why hasn’t Disney prepared anything or placed more than just a handful of attractions in the pipeline to be ready for this in 2025 at Walt Disney World?” the unidentified shareholder asked.

“Thank you very much for your question, but that just couldn’t be further from the truth,” Iger replied. “We’ve been aware of Universal’s plans for a new park for more than a decade. And we have a sophisticated approach to analyzing the needs of all of our businesses and strategically deploying capital.”

Interesting to note that Universal announced Epic Universe (with concept art) in 2019, so Iger is saying Disney knew about U’s plans for a new park five years before they were officially announced.

Iger then reeled off a list of Orlando moves the company has made in recent years, including the opening of Pandora, Toy Story Land, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios. A “multi-year, multi-billion-dollar transformation” of Epcot Center, he added, included new attractions like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Moana’s Journey of Water and Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind.

“By staggering these major launches, we’ve been able to commercially and operationally optimize our new offerings over time, rather than having to do it all at once,” Iger said.

In response to a separate shareholder question about why more details about the $60 billion investment have not been shared, Iger kept his comments fairly brief. “You know, we have a lot of projects in development,” he said. “Many of them are known to us. But we disclose these at a cadence and when we really feel we’re ready, and we have something more tangible to show people.”

The question is a familiar one to Disney. At last month’s six-hour Anaheim City Planning Commission meeting on the company’s request for zoning “flexibility” in relation to the city’s 1994 “Resort Specific Plan” for the area in and around Disneyland, a string of residents wondered to the commission and Disneyland honcho Ken Potrock why they are being asked to allow a $1.9 billion revamp of the park with scant details on what specific attractions and experiences are being added. (The company’s plan for the park has been dubbed DisneylandForward.)

“With DisneylandForward and more flexibility within our existing properties, new lands and adventures like those underway at Tokyo DisneySea and Shanghai Disneyland could inspire new experiences here,” reads the copy on Examples given are Frozen land and the Tangled and Peter Pan attractions for the original park and ZootopiaTron and Toy Story elements for Disney’s California Adventure. These are just examples, however. Disney brass, including Potrock in his responses to Anaheim residents, have not committed to any of them.

DisneylandForward was first introduced in 2021.

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