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Once upon a time, Walt Disney dreamed of a place where parents and children could have fun together. That dream materialized in 1955 with the opening of Disneyland and, for the last 60 years, it has grown to include Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disney, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Now, the newest Disney park, Shanghai Disney Resort, adds a unique chapter to the Disney story, bringing fantasy-filled storytelling to China.
“It has been thrilling to watch this magical place take shape and to have worked alongside countless dreamers to create a place that is authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese,” said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Company, at the grand opening of the resort.
Iger’s description seems accurate. Unlike any other Disney property in the world, Shanghai Disney Resort offers guests a cultural experience that was imagined especially for China: never-before-seen lands, one-of-a-kind attractions and experiences and the largest castle in any Disney theme park.
The changes start at the park’s entrance — Mickey Avenue is the first main entry at a Disney theme park to be inspired by Mickey Mouse and his friends. According to Larry Davis, executive producer/creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering Shanghai, Walt Disney grew up in a small town, so Disney parks have always welcomed guests in a small-town way via Main Street. But, Davis explains, since Shanghai is a brand-new market, Disney Imagineers wanted the entry to be completely unique from all other parks.
“Because the characters are the foundation of our company, why not make the first place guests experience about our characters?” Davis said.
In fact, each of Shanghai Disney’s themed lands introduces new levels of imagination and storytelling: Adventure Isle immerses guests in a newly discovered lost world, The Gardens of Imagination celebrates the wonders of nature and Treasure Cove is the very first pirate-themed land in a Disney park.
“Treasure Cove was conceived and built for this place,” said Nancy Seruto, an executive producer at Walt Disney Imagineering Shanghai. “When I walk around here, I think this is ‘authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese’ — from the sense of fun and level of quality to the beauty of the color and finish. To me, it’s a successful merging.”
Fantasyland, the largest of the lands, is inspired by Disney’s animated films and is home to the spectacular Enchanted Storybook Castle, which, according to Imagineers, features more for guests to do than any other castle in a Disney park. Fantasyland is based on traditional films as well as new Disney films. As in any Disney park, the stories and characters come to life. But, Imagineers point out, even though the stories are not of Chinese origin, they are still relatable for guests, as the arcs of traditional Chinese tales and Disney films are similar in terms of dramatizing a hero’s journey.
“The ‘distinctly Chinese’ part of it is in how those stories are told, and how guests perceive them,” said Jodi McLaughlin, an executive producer at Walt Disney Imagineering Shanghai.
Ultimately, Disney sees the new resort as taking its theme park offerings to the next level.
“Seventeen years ago, I envisioned a destination that would redefine the limits of our creativity and innovation,” Iger said. “But what Shanghai Disney Resort has achieved not only exceeds my wildest dreams, but also those of Walt Disney himself — the dreamer who started it all.”