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Disney characters are spotted at rival Chinese theme park

Storm troopers in Wanda Mall
A Chinese woman poses with a worker dressed in a Star Wars storm trooper costume at the Wanda Mall at the Wanda Cultural Tourism City in Nanchang.
(Mark Schiefelbein / Associated Press)

The chairman of China’s biggest conglomerate recently predicted that a new $5.5-billion Disney theme park opening in Shanghai next month would fail, citing a lack of innovation with intellectual properties and characters.

But when that same conglomerate, Dalian Wanda Group Co., opened a rival theme park over the weekend, visitors were greeted by workers dressed as Disney characters, including Captain America, Snow White and Star Wars storm troopers.

In a statement issued Monday, Disney said it has had a good relationship with Wanda Group’s film distribution business but added:

“We are perplexed that [Wanda Chief Executive Wang Jianlin]  would choose to do public battle with us, or attempt to undermine our business in any way.”

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In an earlier comment to Bloomberg News, Disney vowed to take action to protect its intellectual property rights. 

“We vigorously protect our intellectual property and will take action to address infringement,” Disney told Bloomberg News.

It was only a week ago that Wang predicted that the 15 to 20 theme parks his company plans to build throughout China will outperform the Shanghai Disney Resort by offering lower prices and “constant innovation.”

Over the weekend, Wanda Group opened the first of those planned parks, the Wanda Cultural Tourism City in Nanchang, in the southeastern Jiangxi province. The development features a theme park, a movie park, an aquarium, hotels and retail stores.

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Wang compared Disney’s massive Shanghai park to a tiger that “is no match for a pack of wolves,” he said, referring to his planned theme park.

Asked about the Disney characters at the Wanda theme park, the Wanda Group told Bloomberg News that the characters were “operated by individual stores within Wanda Mall. They do not represent Wanda.”

The theme park rivalry brewing in China is targeting members of the surging Chinese middle class, who have disposable incomes but few tourism attractions or vacation destinations to choose from.

Other major theme-park developers, including Universal Studios and Six Flags Entertainment, are planning to build parks in China to take advantage of the growing market.

By 2020, China will outnumber the U.S. in park-goers, according to a study by the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM.

Follow me on Twitter: @hugomartin

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

4:30 p.m.: This story was updated to include a new statement made by Disney on Monday.


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