Commentary

Disney Characters Liven Up Opening Of Rival Wanda City

Some strange characters were spotted at the opening of Wanda Cultural Tourism City, the Dalian Wanda Group’s purported Disney-killing theme park in Nanchang, China, over the weekend — namely Captain America, Snow White and Star Wars storm troopers.

“People dressed as Snow White and Captain American were posing for pictures with visitors in a non-ticketed area of the complex. Stuffed animals resembling the characters Pokemon and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda were also seen on sale,” Bloomberg News first reported.

It’s being reported as an escalation of a battle for the hearts and minds of the increasingly affluent Chinese consumer. And, after that has been accomplished, the world.

In a television interview last week, Wang Jianlin — the head of Wanda City’s parent company Dalian Wanda Group (and perhaps China’s richest individual), said that Disney “shouldn’t have entered China” in the first place, Charlie Campbell reports for Time

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“The frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the era of blindly following them have passed,” Wang said. “[They are] entirely cloning previous IP, cloning previous products, with no more innovation.”

Wanda City is the first of many parks that Wanda Group “hopes will transform it from the country’s largest private property developer and cinema-chain operator into the world’s biggest entertainment and tourism company,” reports Zheng Yangpeng for the South China Morning Post, citing specific plans for the cities of Guangzhou, Hefei, Harbin, Wuxi, Chengdu and Guilin.

 “The mission of Wanda is to build China’s cultural brand in the world, expanding its influence and say,” Wang said in a past speech. He has also proclaimed “one tiger [Disney] is no match for [Wanda’s] pack of wolves.” 

The $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort — the company’s first theme park in Mainland China — will open on June 16. Hong Kong Disneyland has been operating since 2005. 

Wang,  “predicted that the 15 to 20 theme parks his company plans to build throughout China will outperform the Shanghai Disney Resort by offering lower prices and ‘constant innovation,’ Hugo Martin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

“The theme park rivalry brewing in China is targeting members of the surging Chinese middle class, who have disposable incomes but few tourism attractions or vacation destinations to choose from,” Martin continues. “Other major theme-park developers, including Universal Studios and Six Flags Entertainment, are planning to build parks in China to take advantage of the growing market.”

In a speech at the grand opening at Nanchang on Saturday, Fortune’s Scott Cendrowski reports, Wang “struck a similarly nationalistic tone. ‘Chinese culture led the world’s for 2,000 years, but for the last 300 years, because of our lagging development and the invasion of foreign cultures, we have lacked confidence in our own culture.’” 

“We vigorously protect our intellectual property and will take action to address infringement,” Walt Disney Co. e-mailed Bloomberg News yesterday. “Our characters and stories have delighted generations, these illegal and substandard imitations unfortunately disappoint all who expect more.”

For its part, Wanda disavowed any association with Snow White and friends. “The non-Wanda characters were operated by individual stores within Wanda Mall. They do not represent Wanda,” Wanda said in response to Bloomberg. 

And “China Daily reported that Disney issued a statement saying that it ‘vigorously" protects its intellectual property,’” according to CNBC. “Our characters and stories have delighted generations, these illegal and substandard imitations unfortunately disappoint all who expect more.”

In other turf wars this morning, the New York Timesreports that Mr. Softee ice cream truck drivers are afraid to venture into midtown Manhattan for fear that vendors from New York Ice Cream, a renegade company staffed by former Mr. Softee drivers, will get physical with them.

Andy Newman and Emily S. Rueb write: “‘If one of my drivers goes to Midtown, they’ll bring their trucks in and surround them — a bunch of guys,’ said Peter Bouziotis, who runs the Softee depot in the Bronx, which covers Manhattan. ‘They’ll start banging on the windows.’” And an anonymous New York Ice Cream vendor tells the reporters: “From 34th to 60th Street, river to river, that’s ours.”

As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

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