One on one with Joe Rohde, the man behind Pandora: The World of Avatar

You don't need to be an "Avatar" fan to fall in love with Pandora.

ByABC News
May 24, 2017, 5:19 PM

— -- It's a big day for the creative force behind Disney's newest addition, Pandora: The World of Avatar.

As the lead on the expansion, Joe Rohde, a longtime Disney Imagineer, told ABC News that seeing the "extraordinarily challenging" project come to life is "extremely gratifying."

Visitors, he said, are "speechless, which is exactly what you want."

The official opening is Saturday, but media were invited to Pandora for a look at the finished product of a journey that began with the 2009 hit movie "Avatar." The land guests will see at Walt Disney World is a far from the war-torn imagery of the movie. In Disney's Pandora, it is a full generation later, and the Na'vi people are living in peace with Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) as a liaison to the human race.

But Rohde wants potential guests to know there's no need to be familiar with the movie to fall in love with the Disney attraction. "Every story starts at the beginning," he said. "You don't start a story by saying, 'Remember that other story?' A tremendous effort has been made to make sure this land stands on its own.

"Your first experience of the world of Pandora can be here. You don't need to bring anything with you. We have done it all for you."

Two rides are central to the land: Flight of Passage and Na'vi River Journey. The first is an intense 3D ride through the Valley of Mo’ara simulated to take place on the back of a banshee. It's comparable to the iconic Soarin' but with more thrills built in.

Na'vi River Journey is, by contrast, a peaceful boat ride through a bioluminescent rainforest, where guests search for the Na’vi Shaman of Songs. It's appropriate for all ages.

There's also a new dining option, Satu'li Canteen, where the food reflects the atmosphere: Diners create their own bowls by selecting grains, a protein and a sauce. There are 48 combinations in total. A nearby bar, Pongu Pongu, serves libations and nonalcoholic cocktails. Pongu Pongu translates to "party party."

And while fun is certainly the main focus, there's a larger mission at work: learning from the Na'vi how to be better stewards of our own planet, Rohde said.

That, he said, made Animal Kingdom the perfect place for Pandora.

"Animal Kingdom was founded on a set of values that inform everything we do," Rohde said. The intrinsic value of nature, psychological adventure, or seeing and experiencing something you never have before and finally, that the story is about the person visiting, a personal call to action are the three values, Rohde said. "What happens in Animal Kingdom is your story and when you think about those values, they are the same ones that sit under the movie 'Avatar.'"

ABC News is owned by Disney.

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