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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

So Who Needs Disney?

 I was browsing the internet the other week looking for something new to discover in this fabulous city when I came across a blog site called Asia Obscura with a page posted in July 2011 inviting its readers to join up for a great day out at Beijing’s “Copyright Infringement Park”.

“Sure, it’s about as official as that Justin Beiber DVD you picked up at Tom’s last week, [err.. I think he means Bieber, but never mind], as likely to break down as that Rolex watch Woo bought her dad at the Pearl Market, but boy is it fun! Collapsed rides litter the walkways, while giant pineapple prisons and bokchoy cages drive overhead,” it enticingly said.

An article written some five years ago in the Hong Kong Standard gives more details: “With its slogan ‘Disneyland is too far,’ Beijing's Shijingshan Amusement Park features a replica of Cinderella's Castle, with staff dressed like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and other Disney characters. None of this is authorized by Disney - but that has not stopped the state-owned park from creating its own counterfeit version of the Magic Kingdom in a brazen example of the sort of open and widespread copyright piracy that has Washington fuming.”

Ever since Japanese media coverage of this park sparked indignation around the world, and Japanese bloggers posted pictures of some of its characters, it appears the amusement park has been doing its best to remove the most blatant violations.

Some bloggers even claimed that the park was illegally copying Disney’s Minnie Mouse; but in their defence, the park’s operators insisted that the character on the right of this screen grab is not a mouse, but in fact is a cat with very large ears. Seems a reasonable explanation to me!

And how anyone in their right mind could ever think this duck (Peking duck?) bore any resemblance to Donald, I really don’t understand. For a start to my certain knowledge Donald never wore blue trousers!

US companies are forever whinging that Chinese entrepreneurs deprive them of billions of dollars every year. A US congressional panel even went so far as to suggest that China's rip-off goods account for 15 to 20 percent of goods made in the country. But in fairness the Chinese authorities have been doing their level best to stamp this out.

When I go to one of Beijing’s many clothes markets, for instance, to buy my Tommy Hilfiger or Paul Smith shirts and Armani or Lee Cooper jeans I can at least rest content in the knowledge that while I can get them at maybe a tenth of what they would cost me in Europe, they are definitely 100% genuine goods. I know that for certain as every one of the merchants insists on telling me they’re genuine, and there are even official notices posted up around the market reminding vendors of their responsibility as good upright Chinese citizens.

OK, so maybe some of the original certificates of authenticity that invariably come with them have a few spelling errors – a bit like a copy of a Dan Brown novel I have, which is from the stable of that famous publisher “CORGL” Books and tells me that “When a new NASA satellite detesets evidence … a victory that hasprofound implications … impending presidential clection” and so on. But no doubt Corgi, and Armani and Paul Smith and their like have enough on their plates without worrying too much about getting every spelling correct. Huh! Aren’t some people such pedants!

So all these postings about the Copyright Infringement Park tap your favourite blogger’s spirit of adventure right on the head and I know this is going to be one of my next ports of call.

Shijingshan Amusement Park (北京石景山游乐园) is over on the west side of Beijing, a five minute walk from Bajiao station on line 1. Saturday sees my alarm clocks undertaking their regular weekend workout attempting to extricate yours truly from under the duvet. No problem. Today I am up before number 2 alarm – cunningly set 3 minutes after number 1 alarm goes off – has even a chance to exercise its electronic clarion call.

The subway, as is normal on a Saturday morning, is packed to bursting, but within little more than an hour I am over in Bajiao and make my way to the entrance of the park. Here they have a card system a bit like a subway card. Entrance is 20 kwai, but half of that is a deposit for your entrance card which you can top up with cash throughout the park to avail yourself of the many rides and activities, returning it at the end to get back your precious 10 kwai.

Sure enough, the many maps posted up liberally around the park boast of many splendid attractions…

including Batman, Poseidon, Jones Adventure, King Kong, Cinderella, Transformers and Jurassic Adventure. Oh boy! This is going to be fun!

Obviously an AP news report that the park was taking action following the foreign media coverage was all wrong! (According to this report, Disney characters which had been wandering the park only a few days ago had suddenly disappeared, and the banner that said “Disneyland is too far” had been replaced with an alternative slogan about celebrating spring.)

I step in through the main entrance with all the other expectant kids and their parents, eyes scanning for Mickey, Donald and Goofy. But in front of us is a statue of … errr … some characters I’m afraid to admit are a little bit “after my time”. No one else seems that taken with them either, and no one is intent on posing with them for the family snapshot album, which itself says a lot.

But the park is full of good wholesome family entertainment – such as this double decker merry-go-round which a few parents urge their little charges to go try out.

There’s even an animal corner with some real life Bambis and goats for children to go and stroke – though the only kid in there ran a mile when one of the deer came up to say hello.

Naturally the park has its fair share of rides, such as this one that bears more than a passing resemblance to one I saw many years ago in California’s Disneyland.

Actually the park is divided into two parts by a road, and you have to cross over a replica of London’s Tower Bridge (well, that’s what they say it is, though you could have fooled me!) to get to the other side.

Over on the other side is another of the many ticket top-up booths; this one reminding me at first glance of Potato Man. But how could I be so stupid? This is obviously Potato Woman. I mean… dughhhh!

I turn right and am reminded of another scene straight out of Disneyland – that of Main Street with the castle at the end.

But I think Disney has a bit of a cheek claiming copyright infringement, seeing as how they themselves apparently ripped off the very same idea from a theme park in Argentina which was built in 1951. Have a look at the web site of La República de los Niños if you don’t believe me!

Anyway, apart perhaps from inside Hong Kong’s truly abysmal Disneyland park – where the most welcome sight is the one that says ‘Exit’ - where else would you see Chinese signs over a Disney castle entrance?

As you would expect from the Chinese, safety is top of the agenda wherever you go. Warning signs menacingly suggest you could drown in this 80cm deep lake!

Naturally there are plenty of places around the park for picture posing, such as in front of these Inca ruins (I think that’s what they are supposed to be)…

or in front of this friendly chappy.

Not your cup of tea? How about with the ancient Egyptians then?

Or you could be snapped heading into the crocodile’s mouth as you ride in a log canoe into the Drifting Canyon.

You could even pose in front of Jaws – sorry, a big whale like thingy.

But in truth, no one seems that interested in posing in front of all these photo-opportunity-delights. Where’s Mickey? Where’s Pluto? Where’s Donald? Could they all have gone over to the Olympic Park where the pickings are so much better (10 kwai to have your picture taken with one of them over in front of the Birds Nest stadium!)?

Everywhere I go there is a dearth of Disney characters – or any other ripped off characters for that matter - in any form whatsoever. What’s this travelling overhead? Oh, it’s a giant bok choy cage giving kids a vegetable-eye view of the park. Hold on a minute – that’s a blatant rip off of a bok choy I saw in the market the other day. Oh, sorry. They’re not copyrighted (are they?).

I find some helpful signs a bit further along. The first tells me the way to “Kig Kong’s Spin” whatever that is.

Here’s one for “Jurassi Adventure”

Oh – and there’s even one to “Roman Chriot”.

Do you see a pattern emerging? Well, they don’t call me Superbrain for nothing. I reckon some canny person has gone around removing a letter from each of these signs so no one can accuse them of plagiarism. Yet, I find nowhere any indication of anything looking remotely like some lost dinosaurs, an overgrown monkey or some ancient Italian mode of transport. In fact to cap it all, many of the attractions stand steadfastly closed with nothing whatsoever apparently taking place behind the shutters and tarpaulins.

Rides, however, there are aplenty. This rollercoaster, for instance, appears to be quite popular with a number of courting couples daring one another to have a go. You can almost see the thought bubbles appearing above the macho guys’ heads: “Get her well and truly scared and she will be putty in my arms”.

It certainly looks scary, and the screams from the riders show that the macho guys have got their strategy down to a tee. But hold on a minute. Do you see what I see? Look carefully at that last picture. Better still, have a closer look… Is that a birds nest I see built in the curve of the rollercoaster rail? It’s certainly pretty large. Perhaps it belongs to a passing pterodactyl that has escaped from Jurassic Adventure? Hmmm…. It doesn’t do a lot to one’s overall confidence that these rides are all that well maintained!

Perhaps the last time it had its makeover was when they last decorated the Christmas tree … it is after all May now, FGS!

I decide the time is probably right to cash in my entry card to get my refund and head off back into the city. Not one Disney rip off have I seen in the entire park. Whether the moniker of “Copyright Infringement Park” was deserved in the past, the fact is that they have certainly cleaned up their act, whatever might have gone on before.

Not that Disney, in my view, has a leg to stand on. This park is way better than that awful Hong Kong travesty that is overpriced and underwhelming in the extreme. But more importantly, Disney’s record is not, it appears, as clean as the driven snow either.

The internet is rife with complaints that Disney might have been just a little bit naughty itself over the past few decades. For instance it is alleged that:
  • Atlantis was a rip off of Nadia
  • Epcot Center was stolen from Mark Waters' 1961 painting for Miniature World
  • "Finding Nemo" was a straight rip off of "Finding Nero", a French animated film
  • There have been lawsuits against them for Monsters Inc. and The Pirates of the Caribbean , to name but two.
Of course, Disney has been ripping off French, German and even Chinese fairy tales and others for ages and many clueless people in the USA seriously believe that Disney came up with those stories on their own and now own the rights to them.

But the most blatant Disney rip off appears to be “The Lion King”, which, if you believe all you read, was a 100% rip off of a Japanese animation called "Kimba The White Lion". Every character in “The Lion King”, we are told, has a matching character in Kimba, all the way down to the level of both having a sage mandrill mis-identified as a baboon. Disney’s official line is that their people had never heard of Kimba before The Lion King was released - even in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Have a look – you might be surprised!

And while you’re at it, why not pop over to YouTube for something else that might change your mind about Disney – such as a priest getting an erection in The Little Mermaid? Or how the word “sex” appears in loads of subliminal content in Beauty & The Beast.

Oh don’t you just love the internet! I could spend hours on it, it’s so educational! Now I wonder what attraction will grab my interest for next weekend?