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‘Avatar’ Ride Coming to Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

There are many perks to running the Walt Disney Co. It turns out one of them is getting to be the first to ride the winged beasts that will be one of Animal Kingdom’s signature rides when “Avatar” land opens inside the Walt Disney World theme park in 2017.

Bob Iger said he was recently given the chance to try out the ride, which will enable guests to fly through “Avatar’s” Pandora on the back of a flying banshee.

“It felt so real, so lifelike,” Iger said of the prototype vehicle guests will board to travel through the fictional land. “There’s never been anything like it.”

The vessels that guests will ride upon will essentially be the banshees themselves, with bodies that move to mimic a breathing beast. The flying sequences will be brought to life through large video screens — similar to “Soarin'” — with vehicles moving with the 3D action inside a massive theater.

While Disney and “Avatar” franchise creator and director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau already had announced that “Avatar” land would include the flying attraction, Iger excitedly provided a better glimpse of the experience, describing how he had to scale scaffolding in order to try out the ride for the first time.

Iger discussed the new theme park shortly after discussing plans for “Star Wars” at the company’s resorts during a Q&A with Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller at a Dealmakers Breakfast Wednesday morning, presented by Bank of America and sponsored by Delta.

Disney broke ground on the “Avatar” park in January. The themed addition, designed with Cameron, represents the largest expansion to Animal Kingdom since the park opened in 1998.

Designed by Walt Disney Imagineering, the land will include Pandora’s floating mountains and bioluminescent plants across several acres that will house attractions, including a boat-based attraction, and eateries.

The addition of “Avatar” land is clearly Disney’s answer to Universal’s pair-up with Warner Bros. to build the wildly successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter park and Diagon Alley expansion inside Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios in Orlando.

The themed land will open as Cameron releases the first of three new “Avatar” sequels, starting in December 2016.

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