Disney put on a stunning “castle show” at Shanghai Disneyland on Friday, mixing pyrotechnics and panache to close out a landmark first year for its newest theme park.
Bob Iger, Disney chairman and CEO, took the stage in front of the Magic Castle on Friday evening to thank cast members and the Chinese government, and to repeat his well-worn mantra about building an attraction that is authentically Disney and yet distinctly Chinese.
With a first-year tally of 11 million visitors that confounded critics’ and competitors’ expectations, there is little denying Shanghai Disney Resort’s success. Financial markets are now speculating about a second Disney park in mainland China, and Chinese journalists want to know if Iger is running for U.S. president.
If either – or both – of those announcements are coming, they certainly weren’t released Friday.
On the admittedly unscientific basis of a hurried walk-through and meal in the park on Friday afternoon, Shanghai Disneyland appeared to be fulfilling its promise of entertaining and amusing large numbers of Chinese visitors. The place was packed, and signboards showed waiting times of between two to three hours for the most popular rides. Visitors can use an app that steers them to less busy attractions.
But the young family crowd appeared largely content to push park-provided strollers, buy mouse ears, eat candy and meander through the six lands, or themed sections, built so far. There was little evidence of the rude and pushy tourists that some visitors have grumbled about.
The place is built on a scale and coherence scarcely seen elsewhere in China. There is also little evidence of the wear and tear one might expect to be inflicted by 11 million pairs of feet.
Disney Parks and Resorts boss Bob Chapek said that the company, after extensively assessing local tastes before last year’s launch, is still working on improving the food. It turns out that what Chinese patrons like to eat at home and what they choose to eat in a Disney-run theme park may be different things.
Disney has not always had things its own way. It took 17 years to get from conception to christening of the park, with much of that time spent arguing over whether Disney would be able to bring its TV channels into China. Its broadcast ambitions took another knock last when regulators closed down an Internet TV venture in which Disney was partnered with Alibaba.
But with the theme park and the studio’s slate of movies, Disney is clearly getting plenty right in China. Thanks to Top 10 box-office results for “Zootopia,” “Captain America: Civil War,” and “Jungle Book,” Disney was far and away the top-grossing Hollywood studio in the Middle Kingdom last year.
Friday’s spectacular castle show mixed up fireworks and flamethrowers, lasers and digital light to make short, multimedia chapters showcasing Disney, Pixar, and Marvel characters. Some of the characters appeared to lean out of windows; others mounted the walls.
At times, the fast-changing projections used the massive castle as if it were a flat screen, while in other segments, light effects redoubled the 3D reliefs of the baroque architectural features. Still others repainted it entirely. The whole thing was filmed by a small fleet of Disney drones.