For Disney, Grim News in U.S. Tempers Reverie in Shanghai


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Not far from Disney World in Florida, authorities searched on Wednesday for the body of a toddler who was snatched by an alligator at a Disney resort.

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Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press

SHANGHAI — It has been a roller coaster ride.

Six days ago, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, was on a high, beaming as he guided reporters around the soon-to-open Shanghai Disneyland. Then came the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., home to Walt Disney World. Mr. Iger responded by tightening security at that resort, releasing a statement expressing “heartbreak” and clearing a $1 million donation for shooting victims.

But the show in Shanghai went on. At a festive event on Tuesday night to celebrate the start of an all-Mandarin version of Disney’s “Lion King” stage musical, Mr. Iger was surrounded by giddy lieutenants who had flown in for the party. The Champagne flowed freely. The next morning, a relaxed-looking Mr. Iger stood on the park’s “Tarzan” stage for a news conference attended by roughly 800 journalists from around the world.

By Wednesday afternoon, however, more grim news from Florida cast a pall all the way to China: An alligator had dragged a toddler into a lake at a Disney World hotel. After a search, authorities announced that the boy was presumed dead. This time, Mr. Iger had one of his Florida executives express the company’s “devastated” reaction.

It was probably for the best that Wednesday night’s unveiling of the Shanghai Disneyland nightly fireworks show, “Ignite the Dream! A Nighttime Spectacular of Magic and Light,” was canceled because of a rainstorm.

The opening celebration will resume on Thursday morning with a formal park dedication, attended by senior Chinese officials, in front of the park’s centerpiece castle, the largest and tallest (197 feet) Disney has ever built. At noon Shanghai time, Disney’s sixth resort, its first on the Chinese mainland, will officially open to the public.

If there was not enormous pressure before to make certain that Thursday’s ceremony comes off without a hitch, there certainly is now.

For Mr. Iger, 65, the opening of the 963-acre Shanghai Disney Resort is extremely personal. He started seeking approvals in the 1990s and now has direct relationships with people like Han Zheng, the Communist Party secretary in Shanghai. In May, China’s president, Xi Jinping, sat with Mr. Iger in a public meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing — a rarely granted privilege that seemed to telegraph his personal approval of the arrival of a singular American brand.

The resort is majority-owned by a Chinese state-controlled consortium, but the profit potential for Disney remains nothing short of spectacular, analysts say. Disney holds a 43 percent stake in the park, where a single-day adult ticket costs $75 on weekends and holidays, a substantial price in China, and $56 on nonpeak days. That compares with $125 and $105 at Disney World in Florida. Disney will receive a commensurate slice of merchandise and food sales. It also will receive a fee for its role in managing the resort and royalties for the use of its characters.

Moreover, the company expects Shanghai Disneyland to increase interest across China for its movies, toys, clothes, television shows, video games and books.

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