SHANGHAI • "Mickey Maose" has officially arrived.
In a rain-dampened ceremony attended by Chinese dignitaries, the Walt Disney Company yesterday opened its US$5.5 billion (S$7.4 billion) Shanghai Disney Resort, a 3.9 sq km theme park and hotel complex that represents a hard-fought victory in China for the singularly American entertainment conglomerate.
"Our dream comes true," a beaming Mr Robert Iger, Disney's chief executive, said in Mandarin at the start of the ceremony.
The park - Disney's first on the Chinese mainland - was held up as nothing less than a historic symbol of US-China relations. Mr Iger read aloud a letter sent by US President Barack Obama that heralded the resort as capturing "the promise of our bilateral relationship".
In a letter of his own, China's President Xi Jinping called the project, which took nearly two years of negotiations to realise, a sign of China's "commitment to cross-cultural cooperation and our innovation mentality in the new era".
Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang stood on stage in front of the park's lavish storybook castle and joked that the rain was a sign of good luck - the "rain of US dollars and RMB", he said.
With that, fireworks exploded and performers dressed as Disney princesses took to the stage as over 30 dancers and flag twirlers frolicked.
It was a discordant scene with happenings elsewhere in the Disney empire. Tragedy struck at Disney's resort in Florida on Tuesday, when an alligator killed a two- year-old child at a lake.
In Shanghai, more than a year of meticulous planning resulted in an opening that went smoothly.
"I brought my daughter here because she loves Mickey," said Ms Zhang Yan, 28, who came on opening day with her seven-year-old daughter. She added that she had driven three hours from Yangzhou.
So far, public response has been positive, said Mr Iger. "I've even seen men wearing them," he added, referring to the Mickey Mouse ears.
Disney owns 43 per cent of the resort, with the majority stake held by a Chinese state-controlled consortium. Entrance fees are 499 yuan (S$102) during peak periods and 370 yuan at other times.
But there is competition for tourist cash as China builds more theme parks than any other country in the world.
Disney has also had to fend off accusations of cultural imperialism, most recently from Chinese tycoon Wang Jianlin, who is developing his own entertainment properties. Disney denies the allegation, saying its philosophy is to integrate local elements throughout, from the Chinese food on the menu to the attractions. Even the Disney castle is topped with a traditional peony flower.
"We didn't just build Disneyland in China; we built China's Disneyland," Mr Iger said.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE