Mickey takes on the locals with Disney's $5.5 billion Shanghai bet

Sun Jun 12, 2016 1:34am EDT
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By Adam Jourdan

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - As the opening of the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disneyland draws near, Walt Disney Co has a challenge. 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.

As Li settles on the living room floor for 15 minutes of cartoons before homework and bed, Disney doesn't get a look-in this time, as his favorite animated hero, Ultraman Ace from the hit Japanese series, does battle with space dinosaurs.

And as the number of competing theme parks in China soars, it will become even harder to win the hearts of Chinese children — and open the wallets of their parents — 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.

China's attitude to Disney is ambivalent, reflecting a clash between nationalistic sentiment and the desire for American-style consumption among the growing middle class.

China's military-linked PLA Daily warned of what it said was "invisible propaganda" in Disney's "Zootopia". Yet Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger got a presidential welcome from Xi Jinping in May, and Disney has been granted "special" trademark protection.   Continued...

People visit Disney Town of Shanghai Disney Resort in Shanghai, China, April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo