Disney to open Shanghai theme park in June

iStcok

Los Angeles - Disney's long-awaited theme park in China's commercial hub Shanghai, its first on the mainland, will open on June 16, the company announced on Tuesday.

The $5.5bn facility, originally slated to open last year, will feature everything from an Enchanted Storybook Castle - the tallest in any Disney park - to a "Toy Story"-themed hotel and a theatre with a Chinese-language production of the Broadway hit "The Lion King."

But Walt Disney Co. also says the park will reflect China's own culture - something Chinese officials sought to ensure before permitting the icon of US entertainment to enter the country.

"When it opens in June, Shanghai Disney resort will be a one-of-a-kind, world-class destination that is authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese," Disney chairman and chief executive Robert Iger said in a statement.

"The resort reflects Disney's legendary storytelling along with China's rich culture, and showcases some of the most creative and innovative experiences we've ever created," he said.

In 2005, Disney opened a theme park in Hong Kong, the former British colony that is now a special administrative region of China.

It also has parks in Tokyo, the US states of California and Florida and near the French capital Paris - where there was outrage over the prospect of American cultural invasion when it was first proposed, although Europeans later embraced it.

The idea for the Shanghai project was floated as far back as the late 1990s and current Chinese President Xi Jinping has said he backed the plan.

Last year, Xi told US business executives that he helped the venture get under way when other officials were pushing for a more Chinese culture-based project.

"I voted yes for Disney," he recounted, "because China needs a diverse-culture-based entertainment market." The Shanghai Park broke ground in 2011.

The park is a joint venture between Disney and China's state-backed Shanghai Shendi Group, with the US firm owning a 70% stake in the management company that will run it.

The park is in Shanghai's premier development zone of Pudong, not far from its international airport, and represents the city's tourism future following the World Expo in 2010.

Chinese academics say it could contribute $3.3bn to Shanghai's economy every year and account for one percent of the city's annual gross domestic product.

Disney did not announce ticket prices, but said the launch would include a multi-day grand opening celebration.

Users of China's Twitter-like Weibo welcomed the announcement enthusiastically.

"I must go before the entire country reacts and rushes to go," said one.

Disney has not publicly announced projections for attendance, but netizens expressed worries about overcrowding.

"Come to Shanghai Disney in June to watch the sea of people," said another poster.

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