Walt Disney has opened its Shanghai theme park, its first in mainland China, with speeches by Communist Party leaders, a Chinese children's choir, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney characters.
A Chinese vice premier joined Disney chief executive Bob Iger in cutting a red ribbon as the park opened on Thursday, signalling the ruling party's endorsement of the US$5.5 billion ($7.8 billion) investment in promoting tourism and other service industries at a time of slowing economic growth.
They read out letters of congratulations from the Chinese and American presidents, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.
Shanghai Disneyland gives the Hollywood giant a chance to burnish the brand behind Frozen in the world's most populous film market and to revive its struggling international theme park business.
"This is one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of the Walt Disney Co," said Iger, speaking after the kids choir sang When You Wish Upon a Star.
Later, actors dressed as Sleeping Beauty, Donald Duck and other Disney characters danced on stage.
Speaking as a light rain fell, Vice Premier Wang Yang quipped, "I would like to call this a rain of US dollars or of renminbi," the Chinese currency.
The park's opening follows a decade of negotiations, five years of construction and weeks of having over a million visitors try out its rides, shops, restaurants and two hotels.
Global brands like Disney are rushing to create products for Chinese tastes. The company added China-themed elements and put the emphasis on popular characters at the Shanghai park, while downplaying its American identity.
At the entrance, instead of "Main Street USA", it's "Mickey Avenue".
Ahead of the opening, Iger said the park was "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese".
In a garden leading to its iconic Storybook Castle, Disney created a "Garden of the Twelve Friends" using characters such as Remy from Ratatouille and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh as animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
Disney says the park's Wandering Moon Teahouse, modelled on a building in eastern China, is the only Chinese-style structure in any of its parks.
Analysts expect Shanghai Disneyland to become the world's most-visited theme park, attracting at least 15 million and as many as 50 million guests a year. By contrast, Walt Disney World drew 19.3 million people in 2014.
"It's going to be a huge success. Everybody in China who has a kid or a grandkid is going to want to go to Shanghai Disney," said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research in Shanghai.
Despite a sharp slowdown in growth, China's economy still is one of the world's best-performing and tourism spending is rising.
DISNEY'S PARKS AROUND THE WORLD
The original Disneyland opened in 1955. Company founder Walt Disney oversaw its construction in Anaheim, California, on a 65-hectare orange farm. The park's original four themed areas - Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland - were later joined by Critter Country and New Orleans Square. A Star Wars-themed expansion is in the works.
Disneyworld, the company's flagship resort, was built on former swampland south of Orlando as an alternative to the West Coast park. Its 10,000 hectares are home to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom theme parks. Disneyworld has rolled out new technology for visitors, who use wireless wristbands as admission passes and hotel room keys, and smartphone apps to order food.
Tokyo Disneyland, the company's first park outside the United States, opened in 1983, about 10km east of the city on Tokyo Bay. Both it and DisneySea, which opened in 2001, are owned by Japan's Oriental Land Co, which pays licensing fees to Disney. The nearly 200-hectare park is expanding to include a new Scandinavian-themed area for DisneySea with attractions based on the hit movie Frozen.
Disney brought its vision of Americana to France with the opening of Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park in 1992. To please France, French is the main language for the park, which includes French and European-themed attractions. Mickey and Donald retained their names, but Goofy is called Dingo and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are Blanche Neige et Les Sept Nains. The 1,780-hectare park, 32km east of Paris, has performed disappointingly. Its publicly listed operator, Euro Disney, took a 1 billion-euro (then-$1.3 billion) bailout in 2015 from Disney, which in return got a controlling stake.
Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005 and has been faulted for a lack of big ticket attractions and small size, at less than 121 hectares. One time, the park shut its gates because it was full, turning away hundreds of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese ticket holders, some of whom tried to force their way in. Hong Kong's government owns 53 per cent of the park, which didn't turn a profit until 2012 and sank back into the red last year. A US$465 million ($660 million) expansion including an Iron Man-themed area is set to open later this year.
Analysts expect Shanghai Disneyland to become the world's most-visited theme park, attracting up to 50 million guests a year. The 390-hectare facility is 57 per cent owned by government-backed Shanghai Shendi Group. It is designed to appeal to Chinese visitors with such highlights as teahouse and a Garden of the Twelve Friends, with characters like Remy from Ratatouille and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh as animals of the Chinese Zodiac.