Media & Culture

Robert Iger

The Imagineer-in-chief has a new hybrid vision of mass culture.

Chairman and CEO, Walt Disney Co.

In June 2016, Shanghai Disney, the first Disney theme park in mainland China, officially opened to tourists. For Robert Iger, it was the culmination of more than 17 years of work starting in 1999, when then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner asked Iger to think of what a Disneyland in China might look like. That required Iger to cater to a Chinese hunger for U.S.-produced mass culture, while avoiding any whiff of arrogance or hegemony, vices to which the Chinese are increasingly sensitive. Or in Disneyesque terms: “build something that’s authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese,” the task Iger said he set for his creative team. The resulting product has its Mickey, Minnie, and various Disney princesses. It also has a Lion King musical performed in Mandarin, a teahouse serving Shanghai pork belly rice, and a park with Disney animal characters that represent the Chinese zodiac.

While many expect the new property to be a huge success — some project it to earn up to $3.7 billion annually — there have been short-term glitches. Early visitors kvetched about the price of food and tickets, as well as the long waits for rides. Some complain that visiting Disneyland in Shanghai still feels too American. Then again, the park attracted about 5.6 million visitors in its first six months, about in line with Disney projections. America still sells.

(Photo credit: Jason Merrit/Getty Images)

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