It has been only two days since Wanda City opened in Nanchang, China, to reap the first-mover advantage before Walt Disney Co. opens its first amusement park in Shanghai on June 16, and it already finds itself facing a measure of controversy. Visitors to the 200 hectare theme park in the capital of the southeastern province of Jiangxi saw performers dressed up as Snow White, Captain America and storm troopers from the "Star Wars" movies — characters all owned by Disney.
The new theme park and entertainment complex — first of the many planned by China’s largest private property developer, Dalian Wanda Group Co. — is meant to be direct competition to the Shanghai Disneyland, which had its soft opening already. But clearly, Disney wasn’t expecting competition from its own stable of fictional characters.
“We vigorously protect our intellectual property and will take action to address infringement. Our characters and stories have delighted generations, these illegal and substandard imitations unfortunately disappoint all who expect more,” the company said Monday in a statement emailed to Bloomberg.
The overall theme for the massive complex is distinctly Chinese — there are bamboo forests, malls that look like giant Chinese porcelain cups and some rides in the amusement park that also resemble porcelain cutlery, and Chinese decorations hanging along the paths — and Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, said at the park’s opening Saturday: “Chinese culture led in the world for 2,000 years, but since the last 300 years, because of our lagging development and the invasion of foreign cultures, we have more or less lacked confidence in our own culture. We want to be a model for Chinese private enterprise, and we want to establish a global brand for Chinese firms.”
Despite the rhetoric, however, Disney characters and merchandise seemed to be present in no small measure outside the amusement park. Visitors who opted to skip the park and visit the mall instead saw a performer dressed as Snow White, another as Captain America and several as storm troopers. Inside, stores stocked Disney merchandise and sold Mickey Mouse t-shirts.
Responding to the significant presence of Disney characters and merchandise inside the sprawling complex, Wanda said it did not control the marketing activities of retailers in its malls, and that the non-Wanda characters operated by them did not represent the company.
Disney’s theme park in Shanghai is the biggest Disneyland in the world, and cost the company $5.5 billion. In comparison, the Wanda City in Nanchang cost about $3 billion. Tickets to Wanda City cost about half the price for entry to the Shanghai Disneyland.