By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: A Field Guide to Pandora

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

In the 2009 film Avatar, filmmaker James Cameron envisioned a moon called Pandora in the Alpha Centauri system orbiting the gas giant Polyphemus, with an atmosphere on the moon unbreathable for humans without assistance from Exo-packs.

Earth personnel in the presence of the Resources Development Administration, a quasi-governmental company, travel to this distant place in the 22nd century primarily to mine a rare mineral whose superconductive properties allow it to float in magnetic fields.

In addition, scientists studying the indigenous humanoid species called the Na’vi and the unusual fauna and flora also accompany the private security contractors employed by RDA.

Cameron meant to draw parallels between the lush, tropical forests of this science-fiction inspired moon and the supposed devastation of the ecology on the current Earth where humans have turned their planet into a global urban slum where little remains of a functioning natural ecosystem. He also wanted to make connections between the Na’vi’s spiritual relationship and responsibility to their world which have allowed it to flourish.

Cameron utilized a team of expert advisors in order to make the various examples of fauna and flora as scientifically feasible as possible. The Pandoran ecology is inter-connected from the floating mountain ranges to winged banshee predators.

In the Animal Kingdom’s version of Pandora, the Na’vi people make appearances only in the two attractions and in artwork throughout the area. Disney claims this is to have guests see the area from the Na’vi point of view as well as the difficulty in creating realistic costumes for the unique creatures.

The Na’vi people, according to Disney, “possess humanlike consciousness and intelligence. The average Na’vi is three meters tall with cyan-colored skin and bioluminescent markings. They have large almond-shaped eyes, long torsos and a prehensile tail.”

Throughout the area are examples of Pandoran plants and Disney published a flyer explaining what they are when the area first opened.

“The diversity of Pandoran plant life and its range of size and complexity suggest that the environment of Pandora acts as a strong force for natural selection. The environmental factors that plants experience on Earth – radiation, water, atmospheric gases and gravity – are present on Pandora, although their characteristics differ profoundly.

  • “Spiny Whip: The cup-shaped top of this plant collects raindrops and many species of birds use the plant as a source of water.
  • “Panopyra: This plant captures water and minerals from dew and fog. The Na’vi collect the liquid and use it as a healing drink.
  • “Vein Pod: The pods produced by these trees help to detoxify the atmosphere on Pandora, maintaining stability in the environment.
  • “Flaska Reclinata: This plant absorbs, condenses and purifies atmospheric toxins on Pandora.
  • “Dapophet: The leaves at the top of this plant have healing properties used by the Na’vi, while the leaves along the stem store water and are used as portable hydration.
  • “Puffball Tree: This tree is an important plant on Pandora for purifying the atmosphere. The Na’vi also harvest its leaves for salt.
  • “Grinch Tree: This tree grows in a hunched shape with a twisted trunk and bluish bioluminescent leaves.”

Producer and director James Cameron stated, “I think I knew (the theme park version) was going to be a pretty amazing world but I was still thinking ‘movie’. You can walk around and smell the world, touch the world. I wander around with a sense of wonder myself. I had an amazing time working with the Imagineering artists as they conjured all of this.

“This has been a transformative adventure for me. It’s certainly transformed my perception of what is possible in the real world. If you had asked me ahead of time, I would have said this is not possible. What they have created here is not possible.”

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Thanks, Jim!  And for more on the transformation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, see this.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, More Secret Stories of Disneyland, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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