NANCHANG, CHINA (BLOOMBERG) - Walt Disney has said it is prepared to take action to protect its intellectual property rights after performers dressed as Snow White and Captain America were sighted at Dalian Wanda Group's new theme park and entertainment complex in China.
"We vigorously protect our intellectual property and will take action to address infringement," the company said in an e-mailed statement on Monday (May 30) in response to Bloomberg News queries about the characters, who resembled the Disney ones, that were on display at Wanda's park over the weekend.
"Our characters and stories have delighted generations, these illegal and substandard imitations unfortunately disappoint all who expect more."
Billionaire Wang Jianlin last Saturday officially opened the Wanda City park in Nanchang, the first of his conglomerate's 15 planned theme park and entertainment projects in China that it hopes will help it unseat Disney as the world's largest tourism operator.
Just over a week ago, Mr Wang publicly challenged the Burbank, California company, saying that Disney's "one tiger" - its Shanghai Disney Resort to open on June 16 - "is no match for a pack of wolves" that Wanda plans to unleash.
The companies are vying for dominance of China's US$610 billion tourism industry, which the government predicts will double by 2020 amid a growing middle class.
"The non-Wanda characters were operated by individual stores within Wanda Mall. They do not represent Wanda," Wanda said in an statement on Sunday in response to Bloomberg's queries. The company declined to comment on Disney being prepared to protect its intellectual property.
The Wanda Cultural Tourism City, spanning 200ha in south-eastern Jiangxi province, features a theme park, a movie park, an aquarium, hotels and retail stores, according to the company. Wanda said it expects the complex to attract 10 million people a year.
The people dressed as Snow White and Captain America were spotted in a non-ticketed area of the complex posing for pictures with visitors. Stuffed animals resembling the characters Kung Fu Panda and Pokemon, which Disney does not own, were also seen on sale.
Mr Wang, who vies with Mr Jack Ma for the title of China's richest person on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, had said he couldn't understand how Disney spent US$5.5 billion on a park similar in scale to the Jiangxi province project, which according to Wanda's website, cost 21 billion yuan.
"The incident shows that Disney's intellectual property is so popular that shops use the characters as marketing," said Ms Jennifer So, a Hong Kong-based tourism analyst at China Securities International.
"Wanda doesn't have any IP to start with - their model is more of a property developer, not an entertainment company."
Tickets for the outdoor theme park at Wanda's Jiangxi project are priced at 198 yuan on most days and 248 yuan on holidays and weekends.
That is about half the price of Shanghai Disneyland, which charges adults 370 yuan each for regular tickets and 499 yuan during peak days.