Walt Disney Co has a challenge with the opening of the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disneyland drawing near. For instance, the hold of rival Asian characters such as China’s homegrown Boonie Bears or Big Big Wolf means seven-year-olds like Li Yixuan have less time for Mickey Mouse and Friends.
China’s attitude to Disney is uncertain, which reveals a kind of clash between nationalistic sentiment and the desire for American-style consumption among the growing middle class.
However, while the number of competing theme parks in China soars, it will become somehow harder to win the hearts of Chinese children and to urge their parents to spend money to fuel long-term traffic after the turnstiles start clicking on June 16.
“When we get kids now to write down their favorite cartoon character, very few put down Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck,” said Song Lei, Hong Kong-based director at Animation-Comic-Game Group, the organizer of Asia’s biggest annual fair for comics, anime and games.
“Instead it’s what is being broadcast on television, what they’re seeing in their day-to-day,” he said. That means the Boonie Bears duo and mischievous, super-powered pig GG Bond, he said.
That’s not helped by a ban on imported cartoons during the late afternoon “golden hour” peak viewing time for children.
“There are people that love Disney and those that don’t, for a variety of reasons,” said Chris Yoshii, Asia-Pacific vice president for AECOM and a member of the Themed Entertainment Association. He predicts China’s theme park market will overtake the United States in the “not too distant future”.
But that’s by no means all Disney.
About 2,500 parks are planned in China, including Japanese brand Hello Kitty, and there is already a “Dwarf Empire” in Yunnan.