Published: 18:15, December 21, 2023 | Updated: 11:07, December 22, 2023
‘Zootopia’ lifts Disney’s charm
By Shi Jing in Shanghai

A performance marks the opening of Shanghai Disneyland’s Zootopia land on Dec 19, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Shanghai Disneyland’s highly anticipated Zootopia land opened to the public on Dec 20, and is expected to attract visitors from home and abroad while adding sparkle to the recovery of the city’s tourism industry, company executives and industry insiders said.

The new themed land and its attractions are based on the 2016 animated film Zootopia made by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Construction work started in December 2019. Zootopia is the eighth themed land at Shanghai Disneyland, according to the Shanghai Disney Resort.

Walt Disney Company’s CEO Bob Iger said at an opening ceremony on Dec 19 that Zootopia is Shanghai Disneyland’s second major expansion and demonstrates the company’s unwavering confidence in bringing the Disney experience to the Chinese market.

They chose Zootopia as the theme because of the animated movie’s “enduring popularity” among its Chinese fans, he said.

The buzz about Zootopia land’s opening is reflected in data from online travel agencies. According to Group, China’s largest online travel agency, searches for Shanghai Disneyland-related products jumped nearly 20 percent on Dec 18 compared with the previous week. Tour packages for Shanghai Disney Resort between Dec 21 and 23 were sold out on travel portal

Zootopia land has opened at a time when the tourism sector is seeing a rapid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Shanghai received nearly 2.3 million inbound travelers during the first three quarters of this year, while the number for the full year is expected to exceed 3 million, according to the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism.

The figures also confirm Shanghai’s role as the first stop in China for international tourists, said officials from the administration.

Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Experiences, said Zootopia land will help Shanghai consolidate its role as a major tourist destination and attract more international visitors. Shanghai Disneyland expects to receive a record 13 million visitors this year, he said.

At the opening ceremony on Dec 19, 2023, Walt Disney Company’s CEO Bob Iger said the new themed land reflects the animated movie’s “enduring popularity” among Chinese fans. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

One major aim of building Shanghai Disney Resort is to help grow the image of Shanghai as a tourism destination from just business to business and holiday, he added.

Jared Bush, co-writer and co-director of the animated movie Zootopia visited the new themed land on Dec 18. “Utterly blown away” by the new land, Bush said in an interview with China Daily, noting that details which are shown for only five seconds in the movie can be found in the land, which serves as an expansion of the story told in the movie. 

He disclosed some of the characters and places featured in the attractions and teased some of the details of the next Zootopia movie, which his team is currently working on.

Jill Estorino, president and managing director of Disney Parks International, said the original idea was to build the new project on the story of Mickey and Minnie — the two more widely known Disney characters — when they were planning Shanghai Disneyland’s expansion in 2019.

But Zootopia has the biggest box office takings of all imported animated movies in China, which is one of the major reasons for them to change the idea and make Zootopia the new themed land at the park, she said.

Zootopia reaped 1.53 billion yuan ($210 million) in China, according to entertainment services platform Maoyan.

Shanghai Disneyland warned that the ride “Zootopia: Hot Pursuit” — an all-terrain cruiser powered by a trackless ride system — may not be available to all visitors due to the anticipated high demand and the resort’s maximum capacity.

Shanghai Disneyland opened in June 2016 with six themed lands. The seventh, Pixar Toy Story Land, was opened in 2018. 

Shanghai Disney Resort’s third themed hotel started construction in late August.