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Disneyland China falls a-fowl of huge turkey leg demand

Women wearing Mickey Mouse ears last year at China’s Shanghai Disney Resort where turkey legs slathered in hoisin sauce have become a surprise favorite menu item © AFP / JOHANNES EISELE

Los Angeles, United States, Jul 12 – Over nearly a century Disney has exported US culture across the globe, but the company was astonished to find one slice of Americana wildly popular in China — the turkey leg.

The entertainment giant opened its $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai in June last year, expecting to shift mainly bok choy, Mickey Pork Buns and Minnie Red Bean Buns to hungry customers.

“If you go to Disneyland or Disney World, we sell gigantic turkey legs — they’re like the size of my arm,” Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, told reporters on Wednesday.

“And when I heard we were putting them on the menu in Shanghai I thought our group was crazy. Why are we selling turkey legs in China?”

Iger was quickly proved wrong, however. Glazed in a special Disney-recipe hoisin sauce, thousands of the turkey legs began selling every day.

“We were there a few weeks ago for the anniversary and we sold 4,500 in one day. We couldn’t buy enough of them,” Iger said at a panel for the international press in the company’s Burbank, California, studio lot.

Demand for the juicy snack quickly grew to 4,000 units a day in Shanghai alone — more than Disney’s Polish supplier could manage — and buyers were sent to track down more of the poultry legs in South America.

“That surprised us, and there were other things about food that surprised us — not bad, by the way, just things that we had to adjust to,” said Iger.

Incorrect rumors that the turkey legs sold at its theme parks are actually emu meat have circulated online for years, boosted most recently by March 9 segment on TBS’s “Conan” talk show.

In fact, they look bigger than normal turkey legs simply because they are from the male and not the female Americans are used to seeing in their traditional Thanksgiving meals.

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– Culturally aware –

Shanghai Disneyland — Disney’s sixth theme park and third in Asia — pulled in nearly a million visitors within its first month of operation.

From the traditional peony flower on the castle to murals that replace the animals of the Chinese zodiac with Disney characters, the company is aiming to be culturally aware.

Shanghai received an early introduction to Disney when the animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” showed in the city’s cinemas in 1938.

In the 1980s, classic Disney cartoons aired on Chinese state television, while more recently, hit movies like “Zootopia” have introduced new characters, which Shanghai Disneyland features in its parade.

“Zootopia,” in particular, is cited as an example of China embracing Hollywood after it became Disney’s most successful animation ever in the world’s second largest box office, scooping $236 million.

Sean Bailey, the president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, said the company was currently scouring China to cast actors for “Mulan,” a live-action version of its 1998 animated hit based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan.

“Many of us have been spending a great deal of time in China for a number of reasons, including the opening of the park in Shanghai. So ‘Mulan’ is something we’ve been eyeing for a long time,” he said.

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