Disney got the OK to break ground on the $5.5B Shanghai Disney Resort just a little over five years ago. Today, the “authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese” park opened under rainy skies and following much anticipation. This is the first Disney resort in mainland China, and its 6th worldwide. Under a partnership with Shanghai Shendi Group, which owns 57%, it’s one of Disney’s most ambitious projects ever and is seen as an important collaboration between the Mouse — and by extension the U.S. — and the PROC.
Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger called the grand opening “a celebration of creativity and collaboration, a triumph of imagination and innovation, and a testament to the strong partnership between Disney and China.” That relationship has had its ups and downs over the decades — Disney movies were banned in China back in the late 90s and negotiations for this park were lengthy. But it’s been smooth sailing more recently. Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia and The Jungle Book have performed fantastically at the local box office with Finding Dory on deck.
Among the Chinese officials present were Wang Yang, CPC Politburo Member and State Council Vice Premier; and Han Zheng, CPC Politburo Member and Party Secretary of Shanghai. Even Chinese president Xi Jinping got in on the action today, sending a note of support that read, “I hope that Shanghai Disney can provide visitors with safe and premium experiences and become a world class theme park. I hope it promotes exchanges across cultures of the world.” President Obama also sent a missive. “The resort captures the promise of our bilateral relationship,” he said.
In Iger’s remarks at the opening ceremony, he said, “Together we have created an extraordinary destination, a magical place unique in all the world, where East meets West, the past meets the future, and anything is possible for those who believe. It is our sincere hope that this spectacular place will inspire wonder and create joy for the people of China for generations to come.”
(The celebration in China was in stark contrast to the tragic scenario at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida where a 2-year-old boy was killed by an alligator this week. Iger had earlier offered the family his and Disney’s “deepest sympathies.”)
To develop the brand further in China and tap into the rising middle-class, Disney has invested heavily in the Shanghai enterprise which is located in the Pudong district and broke ground in 2011. It’s the largest foreign investment project in Shanghai, and one of the largest ever in the country. Disney previously estimated that it would spend nearly $300M this fiscal year on pre-opening expenses.
Disney developed the resort in a joint venture with Shendi Group. Fan Xiping, Shendi’s chairman, said today, “After five years of joint efforts, partners from both China and the United States have created magic together. In the process of combining global standards and local best practices, we integrated with each other and established mutual trust and effective communication. The young team has learned and grown in the process, bringing into full play its role as the local guide.”
Disney says “tens of thousands of guests” attended the opening day of Shanghai Disneyland with “thousands more” visiting the resort’s Wishing Star Park recreational area and Disneytown, a retail, dining and shopping district that is home to the Walt Disney Grand Theatre. There, the first Mandarin production of The Lion King kicked off on Tuesday night. On Wednesday night, a two-hour special about the opening was broadcast nationwide on China’s Dragon TV.