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Thursday, June 16, 2016, 14:03

Disney Shanghai theme park opens

By Agencies
Disney Shanghai theme park opens
Performers take to the stage during the opening ceremony for the Disney Resort in Shanghai, China, June 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

SHANGHAI - Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang and Walt Disney Co CEO Bob Iger opened the Shanghai theme park Thursday, its first in mainland China, with speeches by Chinese leaders, a Chinese children's choir, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney characters.

The Chinese Vice-Premier joined Iger in cutting a red ribbon as the US$5.5 billion park opened. Letters of congratulations from the Chinese Presidents Xi Jinping and American President Barack Obama were read out.

Shanghai Disneyland gives the Hollywood giant a chance to burnish the brand behind "Frozen" in the world's most populous film market and to revive its struggling international theme park business.

Wang described the park as an example of Sino-US "practical cooperation" and "people to people exchanges".

"This is one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of the Walt Disney Co.," said Iger, speaking after the kids choir sang "When You Wish Upon a Star." Later, actors dressed as Sleeping Beauty, Donald Duck and other Disney characters danced on stage.

The festive sentiment was tempered by grim news from Florida that an alligator killed a 2-year-old boy at Disney's flagship Walt Disney World. The boy drowned after the animal dragged him into the water at a lagoon in the park on Tuesday.

The park's opening follows a decade of negotiations, five years of construction and weeks of having over 1 million visitors try out its rides, shops, restaurants and two hotels.

Disney Shanghai theme park opens
Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng (left) Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang (center) and Disney CEO Bob Iger pose as they cut the red ribbon during the opening ceremony for the Disney Resort in Shanghai, China, June 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Global brands like Disney are rushing to create products for Chinese tastes. The company added China-themed elements and put the emphasis on popular characters at the Shanghai park, while downplaying its American identity. At the entrance, instead of "Main Street USA," it's "Mickey Avenue".

Ahead of the opening, Iger said the park was "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese."

In a garden leading to its iconic Storybook Castle, Disney created a "Garden of the Twelve Friends" using characters such as Remy from "Ratatouille" and Tigger from "Winnie the Pooh" as animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Disney says the park's Wandering Moon Teahouse, modeled on a building in eastern China, is the only Chinese-style structure in any of its parks.

Disney Shanghai theme park opens
The first visitor reacts as he enters the Shanghai Disney Resort after the opening ceremony of the Shanghai Disney Resort in Shanghai on June 16, 2016. (JOHANNES EISELE / AFP)

Analysts expect Shanghai Disneyland to become the world's most-visited theme park, attracting at least 15 million and as many as 50 million guests a year. By contrast, Walt Disney World drew 19.3 million people in 2014.

"It's going to be a huge success. Everybody in China who has a kid or a grandkid is going to want to go to Shanghai Disney," said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research in Shanghai.

Despite a sharp slowdown in growth, China's economy still is one of the world's best-performing and tourism spending is rising.

"Even with the weak economy, Chinese are not cutting back on tourism," said Rein. "They are still spending on experiences and on their kids."

Shanghai represents a market of 300 million people living within three hours of the park by car or train in one of China's most affluent regions. China's bullet train network can draw in areas further afield.

Disney Shanghai theme park opens

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