10/30/2004, 00.00
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And then Mickey took the fast boat to China

Guangzhou (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Walt Disney, one of the iconic figures of modern capitalism, has found a most unusual ally: China's Communist Youth League.

The US multinational has in fact started drawing on the league's more than 1,000 associations to teach some of its 60 million members about Disney's famous cartoon characters.

It all started some three months ago in Guangzhou. Groups of 30 to 40 children were invited to take part in activities-centred sessions that included story telling and performances.

The project's goal was to popularise the Disney characters ahead of the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland in Penny's Bay which is scheduled for some time late next year or in early 2006. Children will thus not only recognise the characters but will already know the stories and the adventures of the Magic Kingdom and cartoons.

Unlike in Tokyo or Paris, Disney characters are still not household names in China because, traditionally, Chinese authorities have always put restrictions on western movies and cartoons. This is why the Disney Company is betting on children.

"One approach," explains Walt Disney Parks and Resorts president Jay Rasulo, "was to introduce into the activity centres [. . .] an easy way for children to become more familiar with Disney."

That the Hong Kong government and a giant of corporate America could join forces may seem extraordinary at first glance were it not for the project's political component. Penny Bay is the first Disney theme park to be publicly funded. Hong Kong taxpayers are footing a big chunk of the bill at the tune of billions of US dollars with the government taking a 57 per cent stake in it. As for Disney, it is now negotiating a similar deal with the central government in Beijing over a new Disneyland in Shanghai.

Warner Bros is another giant of the US entertainment industry with an eye on the Chinese market. It has set up Warner China Film, its first joint venture with two local companies—China Film Group and Hengdian Group—to produce movies and cartoons in Chinese.

"We will be making commercial-oriented movies for the Chinese audience," said Ellen Eliasoph, Warner Brothers Pictures International's managing director of China.

Warner Bros' entry into the Chinese market also includes plans to build 40 movie theatres by 2008 and open video sales and rental shops in leading cities.

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