| SHANGHAI, June 16
SHANGHAI, June 16 Walt Disney celebrates
the one-year anniversary of its $5.5 billion theme park in
Shanghai on Friday, a key plank of the entertainment giant's
push into the world's second-largest economy through everything
from English schools to films.
China matters for Mickey Mouse's owner: its box office
takings there have tripled over the last two years and Shanghai
Disneyland has seen over 10 million guests in its first year,
setting it on track for faster profits than Disney reaped from
parks like Paris or Hong Kong, both loss-making for most of the
years they have been open.
Disney released 10 films in China last year, including
"Zootopia" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with ticket sales
around $1 billion, according to box office tracker EntGroup.
That was up from four films and $313 million in 2014.
This May, it rolled out the red carpet in Shanghai for a
rare world premiere of the latest film in its popular "Pirates
of the Caribbean" franchise. Stars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom
and Javier Bardem made an appearance.
It has also been tying up with partners like state-backed
producer Shanghai Film Group, its digital subsidiary BesTV for
online content, and Shanghai Shendi, its partner for Shanghai.
Now, for the first anniversary of the Shanghai park it will
celebrate Disney-style, with lights, fireworks and top
executives including Chief Executive Bob Iger and chairman of
Disney's parks and resorts, Bob Chapek. They are likely to face
questions on whether the group is planning a second park in
But along with the rides, Disney is pursuing a steadier path
to build brand and profit in downtown classrooms in six major
Chinese cities, where children study English with the help of
Winnie the Pooh and Captain America.
"With the theme park, films, co-productions, Disney English
and retail, they're creating an ecosystem to bring consumers in
and foster a broader buzz and awareness," said Ben Cavender,
Shanghai-based principal at China Market Research Group.
"The aim is to recreate that feeling in the U.S. where you
have multiple generations who know the characters and cartoons."
Disney said China was a strategically important market.
"Not only is it home to Shanghai Disney Resort, our largest
ever foreign investment, but it has a thriving studio, consumer
products and media distribution business," it said in a
Disney is hiring for schools in cities including Beijing,
Shenzhen, Chengdu and Shanghai - all decorated with Disney
characters and motifs.
It hasn't all been plain sailing. Disney was forced to
launch an investigation earlier this year after a rogue employee
was found to have set up firms which made deals with local
authorities using the Disney name.
Local kids are also more used to Asian cartoon heroes, while
Disney faces caps on imported films, partial bans on foreign
cartoons on TV and long-established local theme park rivals.
However, for 7-year-old Sunny Sun who has been attending
classes once a week at Disney English for the past two years,
Disney characters are now very familiar.
Her mother, freelance writer Happy Chen, plans to take her
to the Shanghai park this summer, and says her daughter goes to
almost every new Disney animation at the cinema.
"Now she really yearns to go to the Disney park," said Chen,
pointing to the crossover between the classes, films, characters
and the theme park. "It's all connected."
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh
and SHANGHAI newsroom; Editing by Clara Ferreira-Marques and