Shanghai Disneyland Breaks Ground on Toy Story Land

While the new attraction is expected to open in 2018, a new report predicts that China's theme park revenue will surpass the United States' within a few years.

Just four months after its launch, Shanghai Disneyland has already broken ground on an expansion. Construction of Toy Story Land, the park's seventh themed area, is now underway, the Walt Disney Co. said in a statement Thursday.

Based on the hit Pixar franchise featuring the characters Woody and Buzz Lightyear, the new attraction is expected to open in 2018. Neither Disney nor its Chinese partner, the Shanghai Shendi Group, which holds majority control, shared how much would be invested in the expansion.

But Disney offered that the addition should be taken as a sign of the company's confidence in the growing demand for themed entertainment in China.

Earlier this week, a new study projected that the Chinese theme-park industry was on track to surpass that of the U.S. in the next few years. By 2020, ticket sales at Chinese theme parks will surge to $12 billion from $4.6 billion last year, according to a joint report by market research firm Euromonitor International and World Travel Market.

Theme park revenue in the U.S., meanwhile, is expected to inch upwards to $9 billion in 2020 from $8 billion in 2015, the researchers said.

"We couldn’t be more pleased with Shanghai Disneyland’s first four months of operation and couldn’t be more excited about our future in mainland China,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, on Thursday.

But Disney has been vague about the details of the park's performance so far. On Shanghai Disneyland's 100th day of operation in September, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said the park had delivered higher attendance than other Disney resorts in their initial opening phase, but he declined to provide numbers. Some analysts have speculated that attendance could be coming in slightly below expectations for the first year, although none have cited hard data.

To Disney's credit, the Shanghai launch has been relatively smooth and free of incident so far — nothing like the protests that marred Disneyland Paris' 1992 debut, or the immediate complaints about size that followed the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort's unveiling.

Covering 963 acres of Shanghai's Pudong district, the Disney's Chinese resort boasts six — soon to be seven — themed lands, a Broadway-style theater, live entertainment venues, two hotels, a shopping district with over 50 retailers, a 123-acre recreational park and Disney's “tallest, largest and most interactive castle." The company says the park site still has three square kilometers of empty land available for expansion.