SHANGHAI -- Mainland China’s first Disneyland has finally ‘lifted its mysterious veil,’ Chinese TV news reported enthusiastically on Wednesday, as CEO Bob Iger announced details of the company’s newest theme park at a ceremony in Shanghai.
Shanghai Disneyland will be “both authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese," Iger said, incorporating new movie-related elements, including a Star Wars Launch Bay and a Marvel Universe zone, while also celebrating “China's incredibly rich heritage.”
The $5.4 billion dollar park, in Shanghai’s Pudong New District, not far from the city’s main international airport, is due to open next spring, after four years of construction. The launch was delayed from this year due to "expansion" of the site, according to Disney -- but Iger said the wait would be worth it, describing Shanghai Disneyland as “a one-of-a-kind destination that will delight and entertain the people of China for generations to come.”
As a nod to local consciousness, Disney is emphasizing that Shanghai Disneyland’s eight-tower 'Enchanted Storybook Castle' -- the largest of any of its parks -- is dedicated to all Disney princesses, including Mulan, the eponymous heroine of the film about a female warrior, based on a traditional Chinese story. There will also be an area dedicated to the Chinese Zodiac, with each of the twelve traditional animal symbols represented by a Disney or Disney Pixar character; a Wandering Moon Teahouse, inspired by Chinese “wandering poets" and featuring “authentic Chinese architecture;” and a Fantasia Carousel designed by Chinese artists.
But Disney is also counting on a love of its traditional stories in China, and Shanghai Disneyland's six themed areas will feature classic movie-related elements, including a Dumbo ride, a Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Peter Pan Flight in the Fantasyland zone, the "Pirates of the Caribbean"-themed Treasure Cove, as well as Tomorrowland, featuring Buzz Lightyear and a Tron lightcycle rollercoaster. There will also be a Toy Story Hotel, and a theater with performances of the Lion King in Chinese.
For Disney, the opening of the park represents an opportunity to tap a potentially massive market: China not only has a growing urban middle class, eager to provide entertainment to its children, but is also a nation where animation is extremely popular, and is also now the world’s fastest-growing movie market, with a box office second only to the U.S. Such factors will make the company confident that Shanghai Disneyland will not repeat the fate of Hong Kong Disneyland, which took seven years to make a profit, and Iger has already described it as "our best international growth initiative in a long time.”
The park, Disney's largest overseas investment, is a joint venture with a Shanghai government-run conglomerate, with Disney holding a 43 percent stake. And Disney may also be hoping that the opening of Shanghai Disneyland will help it to develop other partnerships in China: like many foreign companies, it has long sought to get involved in TV and movie production for the Chinese market, but has been frustrated by government rules on foreign content. However, Disney has recently announced tie-ups with the Shanghai Media Group, with whom it is producing a film, and is also hoping to make a TV series in China, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
However, while some in China are undoubtedly enthusiastic about the new Disneyland, it may also face growing competition. China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, head of the Wanda real estate group, has announced plans to build a series of theme parks around the country. Dreamworks is also planning a visitor experience at its Shanghai-based Oriental Dreamworks studios, and together with Time Warner is reported to be jointly developing the world’s largest theme park in the southern province of Guangdong. And a little closer to home, a new "Polar Ocean Theme Park" is also due to open in Shanghai in 2017, just 25 minutes' drive away from Shanghai Disneyland.