Happy Valley: The Dismal Business of Ripping Off Disney

Pumpkin house

photos courtesy of Michael Bush

Happy Valley:

The Dismal Business of Ripping Off Disney

| published November 15, 2015 |

By Michael Bush, Thursday Review writer


Recently, the mysterious urban street artist Banksy funded a “bemusement” park mockingly titled “Dismaland.” The art installation and sociopolitical statement was well received by many people, and yet not so well by many others. Such is art, and such is life.

But long before our beloved troublemaker and revolutionary dipped his hands into the pot of stolen ideas from the Happiest Place on Earth, China had mastered the art of the Disney rip-off. The Chinese versions, however, are probably not trying to make a statement…unless that statement is, “Give us your money, and please don’t tell Disney.”

Now with Shanghai Disney—the sanctioned, real deal, you dig—set to open in spring 2016, things might change in the area. The copycats and the strange amusement parks nearby may end up shutting their doors, or rebranding to copy a different fad, or they may just end up lowering ticket prices to attract a thriftier crowd. But based on my experience in the region, places like Shanghai Happy Valley Amusement Park will continue to operate with a business as usual attitude, pretending the end is not nigh. theme park map

We were given the opportunity back in 2011 to visit Shanghai Happy Valley, as dismal a land as Banky’s, I would imagine, with the school my wife was working for at the time. It was October, and though we expected a few pumpkins and a witch—about as Halloween as the Chinese usually get—what we found was much more…well, unusual.

Much like the land of the Mouse, you walk down a sort of Main Street as you enter the Happy Kingd…..I mean Happy Valley. And, just to rub it in the beloved old Walt’s face, the Chinese have a parade too, right down that Main Street. A very sad, and confusing parade… but a parade nonetheless.

Now, as I said, this was October, the season of spooky ghosts and pumpkins. And as I also mentioned, the Chinese don’t typically celebrate this holiday. Some places, catering to laowai (the Mandarin word for foreigner), will try do it up scary style. And with many of the younger locals aware of the western holiday, some will attempt sad decorations and costumes at home, that resemble the kids down the street when you were growing up; you know, the one’s whose parents didn’t give a crap?

However, someone on the board of design at Shanghai Happy Valley had obviously done some research on the foreign holiday, and obtained two very important takeaways:

1.Gory, scary, and creepy is good for all ages. 2. Pumpkins…pumpkin the hell out of everything…like, go pumpkin mad…pumpkin it up, bro.

The park had pumpkins everywhere. So many pumpkins in fact, that there were rotting ones being constantly replaced with new ones as we walked the empty streets of the Happiest Valley on Earth. They had a dadgum house of pumpkins (title picture) for some reason; standing all alone, with no one paying any attention to the sad little building.

They even mixed the gore and the pumpkins together in some parts…yes that umbrella says, “kill” on it. No, I don’t think it’s a mistranslation. I truly believe Happy Valley wanted us all dead. Death by pumpkin.



The worst part was that due to the massive amount of them, Happy Valley decided not to carve the pumpkins. Which is fine; pumpkins don’t have to be jack-o-lanterns, and it’s not a pumpkin law set forth by the PumpKing himself… just let them be pumpkins. But oh no, they couldn’t leave it at that. Instead of pumpkins au naturel …they drew on them. Pumpkins

And then, because they realized this would infuriate Halloween enthusiasts the world over, the management dealt with the situation like adults. They put up signs reminding their guests not to step on or throw the pumpkins. Yes, sometimes signs like this are necessary in China; like the warning on a Superman cape label in America that informs you the item will not give a child the actual power of flight and super strength.

Once we recovered from the shock of seeing the world’s pumpkin population reduced by half, and painted upon with reckless abandon, my family and I attempted to enjoy the theme park. And why not? It is a Happy place, right? They have a KFC, and a mascot…a pink ant…wearing a pumpkin…I think I’m going to be sick.



The dang ants even had their own area of the park… a Kingdom. The frozen head of Walt Disney, kept in a secure cryonic-crypt and guarded by techno minions, is currently signing papers to buy a robot body with fire and laser cannons to raze this place to the ground. Well, at least in my mind he is.

Onward towards more Happy times, and less Disney ripoffs, we thought! My family and I happily strolled along, trying to embrace the place, and have a good time. Which we did, don’t get me wrong. It’s only in looking back, and examining the experience as a whole that I truly get the full breadth of the Valley’s thievery…but I’ll get back to that in a minute. For now let’s talk about what I noticed on the day in question.

Inappropriate use of adult themes is rampant in China. Example: you can be roaming the aisles of the grocery store with your five year old, and a song will come over the speakers repeating the word, “mother#*$@er” over and over and over again. No one notices, because no one other than you speaks or understands English. While infuriating to English speaking parents, it’s understandable the staff of a supermarket wouldn’t really know any better. But in the Happy Kingdom of Ants in the Valley…shouldn’t they know that labeling a part of the park “Happy Bubble Land” would draw in parents with young children? And when presented with the sights within, the parents would run out with their young children, fleeing for the sake of their sanity?



I honestly don’t know what else Happy Bubble Land contained, because we couldn’t take our—at the time—three-year-old through that! He was already in danger of swearing like a sailor from our trips to the grocery store; I didn’t want him to become a serial killer too.

As we fled the horrors of Happy Bubble Land, we came upon a scary display behind velvet ropes, and some locals taking photos in front of it. The scene included a grim reaper-like figure sitting on a metallic throne surrounded by….pumpkins. As we stood there gazing upon it, the seated creature suddenly jumped to life and scared the mess out of us, and the Chinese people with the cameras.

Now, scaring Chinese people isn’t hard. I mean, I’m not trying to stereotype, but I lived there for four years, and I scared people just by looking at them or moving my body on a daily basis. One time, I bent down to tie my shoe. An old Chinese woman watched me bend down. Once finished, I stayed knelt for a minute of two, just to chill. When I had enough chill time, I stood up. This old woman jumped back and screamed… terrified at my sudden movement. Me on the other hand, I’m not that easy to scare, but there is a time and a place for a jump scare, you dig?

I’m all for a haunted house. They’re fun, and great place for a scare during the month of October. That being said, I’ll go to one if I want jump scares, ok? Don’t give my son nightmares because you read online that it was part of Halloween to frighten people. I wanted to jump over the ropes and throttle the person, but again, Chinese jail isn’t on my bucket list.

Now, this place is a ripoff… I mean amusement park, and yes they have rides. Rollercoasters, water rides, kiddy zone, an Epcot looking building… but it’s all very… blah. Who cares? I sure didn’t.

Except for one ride. There was one special moment in time, that I’ll never forget, which really made me laugh. We’ve all seen the tower ride, where you sit down and are raised up the top, only to be dropped back down suddenly, your ascent slowed half way down so as not to kill you. Well, this specific Happy Valley version has a unique power source.

The guests sit down, and pull themselves up by a rope and pulley system. Then, upon reaching the zenith, letting go; trusting the Happy Valley Ants to not let them die. Well, I read the umbrella, so I skipped this ride.

One of the Happy Valley execs must have actually visited a Disney park at one point and thought, “They have shows. Action packed and playful. We shall have one too!” And so began the…Mongolian Horse Show…filled with smoke bombs, arrows shot from horseback, and the sounds of war played over a loud speaker set at a level so high, people aboard the Space Station stuck their head out of the window and said, “Turn that racket down, I’m tryin’ to sleep!”

And that’s not the only peculiarity they picked up from their studies of the Mouse House.

Now I must preface this next part by saying that we here at Thursday Review do not hold an opinion either way on these issues. We just report the news… right?

Well, there are trains of thought racing over the tracks of global social opinion on this; and there are many websites dedicated to conspiracy theories about Disney. My guess is that someone at Happy Valley read these websites and said, “Hidden racism? Sexual innuendos? Only babies and wild animals hide racism and inappropriate phallic symbols in parks for kids! Let’s go full throttle and place them in the open!”

And so commenced the building of highly offensive statues along the walking path of the theme park, that have nothing at all to do with the theme, and the carrying of racist statuettes in the gift shop, that also have nothing to do with Happy Ants. Oh, and also, for some reason, they have weenie lamps.




You see; this place was chaos. It utterly confused me. I couldn’t tell if they were trying to rip off Disney purposely, or had just been subconsciously influenced by the mega-corporation’s influence on global culture. Or maybe, just maybe, they were trying to make a statement about the state of our society as a whole, much like Banksy with Dismaland. Or Any Warhol’s soup cans.

But if that was the case, their message about society was garbled and confusing; just like this sign on the side of their log flume.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Pockets of Heaven: The Best Stuff to Eat in China; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; November 6, 2015.

Thank the Lord for Ice Cream!; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; October 23, 2015.