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Disney, Cameron to create theme-park "Avatar"

First Posted: 09/20/11 08:24 PM ET Updated: 11/20/11 05:12 AM ET

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Moviegoers pining for a return to the lush moon of Pandora in James Cameron's film "Avatar" will finally get their chance -- first-hand.

Walt Disney Co is teaming with the Oscar-winning director and News Corp unit Fox Filmed Entertainment, to mimic the thriving green landscape depicted in the highest-grossing movie of all time in a section of its Orlando, Florida, theme park.

Under their agreement, Disney won exclusive global theme park rights to the "Avatar" franchise. It will begin building from 2013 and will eventually take Avatar "lands" beyond Orlando's Disney World.

"Our goal is to go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling, and give park-goers the chance to see, hear and touch the world of 'Avatar' with an unprecedented sense of reality," Cameron said in a statement.

At a news conference, Cameron said that when he began talks with Disney designers, he "quickly realized their vision for this thing was far beyond what I imagined, and I've got a pretty good imagination."

The estimated cost for the Orlando project is about $400 million, a source familiar with the matter said. Construction should take about five years.

Planning is in the early stages, and executives gave few details on how Disney would recreate the fantasy world of "Avatar" and the creatures that inhabit it. The section will be located within Disney's Animal Kingdom park.

"Avatar," the 2009 film that chronicled the struggle of the alien Na'vi against marauding resource-ravenous humans, grossed almost $3 billion worldwide and triggered the current renaissance in 3D-film making. Cameron is planning sequels to the blockbuster hit, which surpassed his own "Titanic" as the highest-grossing movie in history.

The first of the "Avatar" sequels is set for release around Christmas 2014, Cameron said.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said the company planned to bring "Avatar" to other locations beyond the Florida park. "We think we can clearly leverage the global interest in this property," Iger said.

The company is deep into several big theme park projects, including building a new park in Shanghai and adding a 12-acre section, set to open next year based on the animated "Cars" films, to its California resort.

Disney typically works with its own movies when developing themed sections and rides. It does have some attractions based on films from other studios, including the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Edwin Chan; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Tim Dobbyn)

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Filed by Reuters  |