Fox Theme Park in Malaysia in Jeopardy Amid Disney Merger

UPDATED: When it was announced in 2013, 20th Century Fox World was set to be the studio’s first theme park. Situated an hour outside Kuala Lumpur, the park would feature characters from Fox animated films like “Ice Age,” “Rio,” and “Planet of the Apes.”

But now the project could become a casualty of the Disney-Fox merger.

On Monday, the Malaysian resort company that is developing the park filed a billion-dollar suit in federal court in Los Angeles, accusing Fox of trying to back out of the deal. Genting Malaysia Berhad operates the Genting Highlands resort, which includes a casino, seven hotels, a shopping mall, and other attractions. It has already spent $750 million on the Fox theme park, which is running years behind schedule.

In the suit, Genting Malaysia alleges that Fox has taken steps to cancel the contract. The suit also names Disney as a defendant, contending that Disney executives have taken the lead on the project, and they are opposed to the park because it would be adjacent to a casino.

“Disney wanted no association with a gaming company like GENM due to Disney’s ‘family-friendly’ brand strategy,” the suit alleges. Canceling the project, the suit alleges, would generate a windfall of accelerated payments to Fox and “protect Disney’s existing parks from increased competition and ‘protect’ its ‘family-friendly’ brand.”

The park was initially projected to open in 2016, but has been repeatedly delayed. The developer now hopes to open it during the first half of 2019. In the suit, Genting states that Fox has used the delays as justification for seeking to cancel the deal.

However, Genting alleges that the delays were Fox’s fault.

The company claims that Fox withheld approvals for various elements of the park, or withdrew approvals that had already been granted. The suit says Genting’s designers were forced to recreate the “Ice Age” characters from scratch because Fox failed to provide digital assets for them.

Genting also claims that Fox frustrated its efforts to use clips from “Planet of the Apes” by refusing to send a letter of support to the estate of Charlton Heston. The developer sought to use 177 clips from Fox films, but was only able to obtain rights to 52, the suit alleges.

Genting says several of the Fox-themed attractions at the park are nearing completion, and that a third-party compliance body recently granted approval to two rides: “Independence Day – Defiance” and “Night at the Museum – Midnight Mayhem.” Several other rides are under construction, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars.

The suit says Fox recently issued a notice of default, requiring the developer to open the park within 30 days — an impossible target to meet.

“There is little doubt which group’s executives will be in charge after the merger and what their view of Fox World would be given their desire to protect Disney’s theme parks from competition in the increasingly competitive Asian market,” the suit alleges.

Fox said on Nov. 27 that the suit is “without merit.”

“This lawsuit is entirely without merit,” Fox said. “As the Complaint itself makes clear, Genting has been failing to meet the agreed-on deadlines for several years, long before the 21CF-Disney agreement. The allegation that Disney, rather than Fox, finally decided to declare a default is simply made up. We look forward to presenting all the facts in the appropriate forum.”

Disney is on the same page about it, saying, “The claims made against Disney in this matter are utterly without merit.”