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Yes, You Actually Do Love Avatar. Admit it.

-Joseph Pillsbury


With the new Pandora-World of Avatar opening soon at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, It is important to have this discussion; Why do so many people seem to hate the movie Avatar?


I am here to suggest they really don’t.  I believe most people actually LOVE Avatar.


My theory is based on an odd occurrence in American pop culture. It happens again and again these days. I think it might have a lot to do with social media. When something becomes extremely popular, it will likely hit a tipping point where, for some reason, it becomes popular to express hatred for that thing.


Let me give you some examples so you know what I am talking about.  Disco music, Boy bands (any of them), Britney Spears, Titanic-The Movie, My Heart Will Go On-The Song from Titanic, Justin Bieber, Frozen-The Movie, Let It Go-The Song from Frozen, etc.


You could probably think of a dozen more things that fit this description. Something everyone loves until someone on social media declares it stupid and makes us all feel a little bad for liking that thing so much.  Then we all act like we were all cool too. That we never liked that thing either (though we probably have a closet full of Britney Spears posters and have worn out our Frozen DVDs).


The movie Avatar is one of those things. There is a whole brigade of people out there on the internet who will claim they hated this movie. Yet the numbers do not lie. It is far and away the most successful single movie of all time. That means not only did most of the world’s population see this movie. But most of us saw it multiple times. We saw it again when a special edition was re-released in theaters. We raced to get the DVD or BluRay because we could not wait to have our friends over who had mere normal televisions to see how incredible Avatar looked on our 1080p flat screens. Then when they bought 3D televisions they bought the 3D version of Avatar, maybe the extended directors cut this time. When it became available for their 4k televisions they bought yet another copy.  We watched it with glee each time as it took them into a strangely beautiful alien world filled with adventure and giant blue cat people romance.


I’ve heard all the excuses;  Avatar was just a cartoony rip-off of Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, or Fern Gully or for more film-snobby people Lawrence of Arabia.  Trouble is, anyone who has taken an English lit class knows that there are only a few story constructs out there. Nothing is original any more.  It’s a pretty easy exercise to compare one movie to another older movie.  So where was all the griping when Dances with Wolves came out and it felt an awful lot like watching Little Big Man (A great movie about Dustin Hoffman stumbling between the white man’s world and the Native American’s world).  Why didn’t any of those movies incur the wrath that Avatar did for apparently committing the same crime?


Why?  Because none of them reached the run-away popularity of James Cameron’s Avatar.  And in American culture it becomes oddly cool to turn on the things you once loved.


Maybe it’s because Avatar first hit the screen in 2009.  It has been eight years. Some adults today might not remember how big Avatar was to movie going audiences.  I happened to be a projectionist at the time. I remember the phenomenon quite well.  Avatar was Star Wars scale popular.  Lines around the block, people waiting hours outside for their chance to experience it.  Avatar was arguably the first movie to make break through use of the newer 3D technology. It was the best possible 3D experience right when two-image polarization 3D film presentation got it right. Because Cameron had complete control of the computer-generated movie making process, his team was able to manipulate the images to bring out the best possible 3D experience for theater audiences.  It was one of those rare collisions of presentation technology meeting a popular film at precisely the right moment.


People were not just going to see a movie.  They were literally lining up for the chance to experience a whole new world.  Maybe the equivalent today would be strapping on one of those bulky visors and experience a virtual reality program.  In some ways Avatar was the first step towards the true fully immersive VR experiences we are starting to see today.


There were news stories that talked about a national psychosis.  People were buying the Avatar movie ticket more like they were buying an airplane ticket.  They were going to the movie again and again, the way we wish we could just buy a movie ticket and find ourselves suddenly in the middle of the Magic Kingdom.


THAT was the Avatar experience back in 2009.


So for people today to be claiming they never liked the movie.  Or that it was just one of those things that everyone did once and never did again is an absolute lie.  People LOVED Avatar.  People still love Avatar. I would wager a bet that if you popped in the best possible copy of the movie on your biggest brightest television today, before the end of the movie I bet your entire family is glued to the screen all over again.


The story is not stupid. The story is simple.  Its elegant. It has been told so many times in so many different ways because its timeless.  An explorer from the new world ventures into the wilderness to exploit the riches of nature. They encounter the natives and while trying to win them over love is found. Opinions change. And the ways of the noble natives are discovered to be just as righteous as the conquering explorers.  New allegiances are formed and conflict ensues. It’s a story that has happened as many times in history as it has in fiction.


Avatar tells the story with more imagination and beauty than most of the others.  Rarely has an alien world been so completely envisioned.  Often sci-fi movies make alien worlds dark and cold. But Cameron created a planet filled with the kind of things you might find in the deepest ocean. Alien enough to most of us.  Avatar’s world is filled with bioluminescent plants. The six legged beasts that live in those forests seemed just as varied as the many species here on earth. Each seeming to occupy their own place in the ecological structure.  The functional eco-system on fictional Pandora is part of the reason the movie works.  Even if you did not like the story, you still had to appreciate the magnificent world they gave us.


Disney is about to make Pandora undeniably cool again.  I think the big minds behind the mouse saw through the nonsense and recognized that most of us dreamed of visiting Pandora one day. And now, thanks to some crazy Imagineering, we are all about to get our chances.


I think many of us who frequent Walt Disney World have witnessed the same thing while trying to sneak a peek over the construction barriers at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We have all seen people wander up and say “Avatar?  Really? I didn’t like the movie but that looks so cool!” As they spotted the floating mountains being rigged and suspended off in the distance.


I have a feeling no one is going to be declaring their distain for the movie while they are riding their own Banchee along the rocky cliffs or gawking at the hypnotic beauty of a bioluminescent river.

Experiencing Pandora here on earth is going to be the ultimate virtual reality experience.


I am here to say Avatar is a great movie. It has a compelling story and breathtaking action. But most of all it gives us a whole new world to explore. And I am going to be at WDW opening week to experience it first hand!  I could not be more excited!