Disney "Perplexed" by Wanda Chairman's Attack, Will "Vigorously Protect" IP in China

Wang Jianlin Black Background GETTY H 2016
Getty Images

The Beijing-based conglomerate has issued a strongly worded response to allegations of illegal use of Disney characters in a new Chinese amusement park.

China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, created a stir last week when he suggested that Disney's new $5.5 billion theme park, opening next month in Shanghai, was a mistake destined for failure.

The 61-year-old billionaire, chairman of Chinese real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, a growing powerhouse in the global entertainment sector, said that Disney "should never have entered China" and that the new park's financial prospects "don't look good," citing high costs and a lack of innovation around intellectual property.

He later likened Shanghai Disneyland to a lone tiger, which "is no match for a pack of wolves" — a reference to the 15 competing amusement parks that Wanda Group is itself planning to open across China.

After initially staying silent, Disney issued a response to Wang's assertions on Memorial Day. "We have a good relationship with Wanda, particularly in the film distribution business, including in the United States," the company said. "We are perplexed that Mr. Wang would choose to do public battle with us, or attempt to undermine our business in any way." 

Wanda controls North America's second-largest movie theater chain, AMC Entertainment. In February, the company acquired Thomas Tull's Legendary Entertainment, becoming the first Chinese entity to own a U.S. movie studio with a track record of investing in global blockbusters. 

Over the weekend, Wanda unveiled its first mega-resort in the southeastern Chinese city of Nanchang. Named the Nanchang Wanda Cultural Tourism City, the $3 billion, 200-hectare attraction features a huge shopping mall with an indoor ocean park, China's longest roller coaster, over 40 entertainment attractions, 10 hotels and more than 50 Chinese and international restaurants. Five more such facilities are scheduled to open across the country in the next three years.

During the Wanda Tourism City's opening weekend, some visitors reported spotting staff dressed as Disney characters, including Captain America, Snow White and Star Wars storm troopers. Some Western media outlets later suggested that the costumes might have constituted an intellectual property infringement — which would be a particularly ironic breach, given Wang's recent Disney bashing.

Wanda responded Tuesday with a strongly worded statement in its defense, saying that it had looked into the allegations and determined that the Disney characters seen by visitors were employed for promotional purposes by independent retailers, with the use officially licensed by Disney.

Over the holiday weekend, Disney told Bloomberg that it would "vigorously protect" its intellectual property and "take action to address infringement.” Disney did not respond to a request from THR for a response to Wanda's explanation. 

Wanda's full statement is below.

Recently some media publications reported that Nanchang Wanda Cultural Tourism City’s Wanda Park illegally used some Disney characters for promotional purposes. After our investigation we found that the reports were seriously distorted.

Media reports say that Disney characters appeared within Wanda Park. This is inaccurate. The characters in question appeared in the business area of the Wanda Mall inside the Nanchang Wanda Cultural Tourism City. Nanchang Wanda Cultural Tourism City, or Nanchang Wanda City, is a multi-business complex that houses Wanda Mall, an outdoor theme Park, hotel resorts, a bar street, etc. Wanda Park, which is a combination of the theme park, ocean park and movie park, has never used any Disney characters for display or promotion.

Some relevant stores within the Wanda Mall use Disney characters on some merchandise and for promotional purposes. The use is officially licensed by Disney. No infringement has occurred.

Dalian Wanda Group attaches high importance to the protection of intellectual property rights, and Nanchang Wanda City owns several cartoon characters with their own intellectual properties. Wanda regrets the emergence of groundless accusations from certain media and reserves the right to pursue legal action.