Snow White, Jack Sparrow and a regiment of gun-toting Stormtroopers have welcomed Disney’s first theme park in mainland China – the fruit of a $5.5bn investment and a two-decade courtship of the Communist party’s top leaders.
Shanghai Disney – the Middle Kingdom’s own Magic Kingdom, a 963-acre fantasyland of mermaids, pirate galleys and Toy Story-themed hotel rooms – has been built 18 miles east of Shanghai’s financial centre on what until just a few decades ago was farmland.
Inside the park, which is the size of nearly 600 football pitches , day trippers will find the largest Disney castle on earth, a pirate-themed stunt show, a Mandarin version of the Lion King Broadway musical and a hair-raising, neon-lit rollercoaster called the TRON Lightcycle Power Run.
To cope with the crowds 10,000 workers will be deployed on the opening day.
“We’re incredibly excited about what we’re about to show the world,” Disney chief Robert Iger, who has spearheaded the project, told CNBC on the eve of the opening.
“We didn’t just build Disneyland in China,” Iger added, according to Variety. “We built China’s Disneyland.”
The idea of building the mega-project was first conceived in the late 1990s but protracted and highly politicised negotiations with Chinese authorities meant permission was not granted until 2009 while construction only began in April 2011.
During that time Disney chiefs have engaged in an intense lobbying campaign designed to secure permission to import Mickey Mouse to the land of Mao Zedong.
Speaking last week, Iger admitted that to make the project happen he had “engaged with three presidents and a few premiers and a number of vice-premiers and a number of party secretaries and five or six mayors of Shanghai”.
(Article first appeared in The Guardian)