Just days after predicting doom for Disney in China, and saying that the mainland had “passed the phase when we would go crazy for cartoon characters,” billionaire Wang Jianlin opened his latest theme park on Saturday with appearances by Snow White and Captain America, both characters trademarked by the US entertainment company.
The fairy tale princess and the comic book superhero were in Nanchang in China’s Jiangxi province over the weekend for the opening of Wanda City, the latest entertainment complex in a chain of 20 such planned destinations belonging to Dalian Wanda Group, the real estate-based conglomerate controlled by Wang.
The former army officer turned corporate titan has vowed to transform Wanda into an entertainment company reaping at least RMB 80 billion per year in revenue by 2020, based in part on his ability to leverage the appeal of traditional Chinese culture at the company’s chain of tourist attractions.
At least in Nanchang,, however, Wanda has turned to Captain America to help reach its goals. Disney has already underlined in a statement published in Bloomberg, that it will “vigorously protect our intellectual property and will take action to address infringement.” A spokeperson for Wanda reportedly said that the “non-Wanda characters” were not directly associated with the entertainment firm, although they did not deny their appearance at the park.
Wanda Opens 200 Hectare Park in Second Tier City
Wanda is opening its latest mainland attraction in Nanchang, the capital of southern China’s Jiangxi province just over two weeks before Disney is set to open its $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort as the two companies battle for mainland entertainment spending.
Wanda City in Nanchang, which follows the company’s opening of tourist destinations in Xishuangbanna in Yunnan province, and Wuhan in Hubei province, is a 200 hectare complex that includes a shopping mall, a 14 screen movie theatre, an aquarium and an 80 hectare theme park with what is said to be the world’s highest and longest roller coaster.
Wanda is selling admission to its $3.2 billion destination at RMB 198 on weekdays and RMB 248 on holidays and weekends, compared to Disney which will charge RMB 370 on weekdays and RMB 499 on weekends and holidays, according to published reports. The company projects that the Nanchang attraction will bring in 10 million visitors annually.
Rather than aim for China’s biggest markets like Disney has with its Shanghai and Hong Kong locations, Wanda is currently developing parks in Harbin, Hefei and Wuxi in addition to its existing destinations in Yunnan and Hubei, all second tier markets in the developing nation.
Attack of the Clones Restaged in Nanchang
Besides aiming for minor league cities, Wanda is also hoping to attract visitors to its tourist destinations by promoting elements of Chinese culture and local traditions rather than relying on trademarked characters.
In an interview on China’s CCTV earlier this month, Wang Jianlin contended that Shanghai Disney Resort would lose money for 20 years due in part to the company’s over-reliance on its own intellectual property, including its cast of fairy tale and film characters which Wang predicted would “be a burden” and that the park is “a clone of their old products and the attraction can’t last.”
Clones were much in evidence at the weekend launch of Wanda City, however, where park visitors posed with characters dressed as storm troopers from the Star Wars films. Lucasfilms, which produced the Star Wars series, is now part of Disney, which owns the trademarks for the movies and for the storm trooper characters.
Not all the attractions at Wanda City were character-based, however, with the park also featuring rides such as the twirling “porcelain teacup” attraction. All five Disney parks globally feature a version of the Mad Tea Party ride, an attraction where visitors ride in spinning teacups inspired by the Unbirthday Party scene in Walt Disney’s Alice In Wonderland.
According to a statement by the company, Wanda will unveil its second Wanda City in Hefei this September and another five such parks are planned to open within China in the next three years. By 2020, Wanda plans to unveil 15 Wanda City projects in China and five overseas.