How I Became A Duffy Fan: The Duffy Phenomenon

mcducks-duffy-boy


Duffy the Disney Bear is a divisive character in the United States. Actually, not so much divisive as unpopular or unnoticed by a majority of Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans, but also having a small and loyal following. For the group with whom he’s an unpopular character, I think it’s largely because Duffy is representative of the complaint that Disney now is driven by consumer products and marketing divisions, with great efforts made to manufacture success if that success means more merchandise sales. To be fair, it’s not exactly as if Disney hasn’t always strived for this to a degree. Even in Walt Disney’s era, there was an effort made for synergy (even if that word was never used) between areas of Disneyland and things like Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures. As is the case with anything, impressions of the bygone-era of Disney are remembered more optimistically and ‘unblemished’ than perhaps they actually were.

By any standard, the case of Duffy in the United States Disney theme parks is an extreme example of trying to manufacture a successful vehicle for merchandise sales. He seems to be less a meaningful theme park character and more a new attempt to find the next version of pin trading–a lucrative merchandise line that lends itself to repeat sales and special editions. (Where Duffy has failed in this regard, Vinylmation and custom MagicBands seem to be the merchandising spiritual successors to pin trading.) Instead of having a thoughtful presence in the theme parks, he strikes me as a cute meet & greet character randomly interjected places to sell plushes and clothing for them. Because he’s a thinly veiled merchandising ploy, I think Duffy has largely been rejected by United States audiences. I have not been a fan of him here.

My opinion of Duffy changed when we visited Tokyo DisneySea for the first time. I love Duffy in Tokyo DisneySea (and Tokyo Disneyland, but his home there is DisneySea). Before I get into the why and the how of what changed my mind, here’s a bit of background on how Duffy came to be. Or, at least my understanding of what happened. In the early 2000s, Duffy was developed as an ancillary toy–not even a standalone character–Mickey’s teddy bear. He was presented, essentially, in the background and available in some merchandise capacities in the United States parks, but he was never viewed or treated as a prominent character. A few years later, Disney and the Oriental Land Company fleshed out his backstory and made him into a spotlight character, introducing him as “Duffy” in 2005, at which time he was an immediate smash hit with guests. In 2010, this version of the Duffy, the Disney Bear was reintroduced in the United States parks as a prominent character. He has subsequently appeared at every Disney theme park complex in the world. Since his refresh, Duffy has since been given a few friends: Shellie May, his girlfriend; Tippy Blue, his mail-bird; and Gelatoni, his artist-cat friend.

mysterious-island-duffy-shoppers


While Duffy was undoubtedly given a makeover in Tokyo for the express purpose of selling merchandise, which would seemingly make any criticisms about his presence in the US parks equally valid in the Japan parks, there is a critical difference between Duffy in the US and in Japan: guests absolutely love him in Japan, and he is a character with a meaningful presence. He is not just haphazardly placed wherever without any explanation as to why.

Virtually everything introduced in any Disney park throughout the history of the theme parks has arguably had ulterior motives in terms of merchandising and marketing, it’s much easier to forgive this when the end result comes across less like a product of a marketing machine and more like a natural fit for the park. Heck, there were probably ulterior motives even with our beloved Figment way back in 1983 given his large stock of merchandise throughout EPCOT Center, but like Duffy in Japan, Figment was a natural fit and had organic popularity. He was instantly embraced by guests because he came across as genuine. Same goes for Duffy at DisneySea.

duffy-dessert

Seeing Duffy in Tokyo DisneySea made me realize he’s not an inherently bad character. He is beloved and there he has a storyline that fits the Cape Cod area of the American Waterfront, and Tokyo DisneySea in general pretty well. His “Spring Voyage” with Mickey Mouse is fun and cute, and it makes sense in the context of Tokyo DisneySea. More importantly for me as a cultural outsider, he is the single greatest example of how American culture has been not just been embraced by the Japanese, but has been transformed and turned into something of their own.

sarah-bricker-japanese-guests-tokyo-disneyland

For lack of a better way of describing it, Duffy and his friends are how Japanese guests “show their Disney Side,” to borrow a phrase from the current Disney marketing campaign. Throughout this post, I’ve included photos demonstrating the passion guests in Japan have for Duffy. It’s real, and I think it’s actually pretty cool to see.

Duffy plushes are to Tokyo DisneySea what Mickey Mouse ears are to the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. Duffy plushes have that quickly become such a popular and significant part of the Tokyo parks that they can likewise be identified as a quintessential part of the Disney experience in Japan. Yes, Duffy is quintessential Disney.

tokyo-disneysea-0951

Park-goers in Japan love Duffy so much that there are actually limits on how much of his merchandise you can purchase. Can you imagine that in the US?! Hating Duffy in Japan would be tantamount to hating Mickey in the United States. You’d be an iconoclast. I’m not putting Duffy in the same league as Mickey in terms of historical significance, but in terms of cultural significance, I think he’s right there with Mickey in Japan (Mickey is no slouch there, either). There, Duffy is a symbol of everything positive that people love about Disney. Quite the stark contrast to what he represents here.

This is really difficult to convey, and people who are only used to our Duffy might have a hard time accepting it. I think it’s almost easier to convey with photos than it is with text, so let’s take a look at Duffy in the Tokyo parks to get an idea of just how ubiquitous Duffy and his friends are there.

duffy-plush-cape-cod-tokyo-disneysea

Cape Cod is best considered a “mini-port” within the American Waterfront. It’s separated from the rest of American Waterfront, and it’s this village that is home to Duffy. This is where his meet and greet is, as well as Cape Cod Cook-Off, where he performs a show.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a look at the show that ran at Cape Cod Cook-Off until this year. It’s cute, with a Duffy song that is way too catchy.

Tokyo-Disney-Resort-0237

While several shops in the park sell Duffy merchandise, Aunt Peg’s Village Store in Cape Cod is the Duffy-dedicated store. It is almost always packed, with merchandise flying off of the shelves. Those life-size plushes are around $400 US, if I recall correctly. Regardless of exact price, they’re very expensive.

Tokyo-Disney-Resort-Spring-2013-0391

Here are the life-size plushes in the park; given their price, we were surprised at how many we saw. Notice that Duffy and Shellie May and Duffy are “cuddling” here. Many guests personify the plushes and treat them with loving care.

Tokyo-Disney-Resort-Spring-2013-0409

Seeing Duffy pushed in strollers, given his own chair at meals, or being sat upright in a parade being area (on a mat, of course) so he has a good view of the parade is not uncommon.

tokyo-disneysea-0950

In this shop, every piece of Duffy merchandise besides these two plushes had sold out. Were they intentionally placed beside one another so neither felt “lonely”? Would a guest purchase one without another?

The point with these last few photos is that, for many guests, Duffy is not just a kawaii toy or plush purchased as a way to remember their trips to the parks. He’s also not just a collectible with limited edition merchandise that makes for fun collecting. For many guests he is these things, but for other guests he is a friend and family member. In this sense, Duffy transcends traditional merchandise. Friends of ours who have spent extensive time in Japan speculate that Duffy has special significance to many people due to the nature of Japanese culture, and can sometimes act as a surrogate child or close companion. I’m no expert on human behavior or Japanese culture, so what, exactly, Duffy is for some guests is beyond the scope of this post and is merely speculative. Without question, Duffy does have special meaning unlike anything I have seen of theme park characters in the past.

tokyo-disneysea-duffy-134

Photographing Duffy in various spots around Tokyo DisneySea is incredibly popular. So much so that there are these fold-out “Duffy Photo Points” throughout the park. On the in-room resort TV at the hotels, there’s also a segment consisting of tips for photographing Duffy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can also purchase a book that’s all photos of Duffy around Tokyo DisneySea. The photos in this book aren’t stationary poses; they are action shots of the plushes.

tokyo-disneysea-duffy-132

Here’s one of the Photo Points in action. I was told that these were installed due to a large number of guests placing Duffy plushes in flower beds and other places that could be damaged. You still see guests photographing Duffy in places besides these spots, but presumably not as much as prior to their installation.

guest-posing-duffy-mysterious-island

Special Duffy photo spots were installed for “The Happiness Year” 30th Anniversary. At times, we have seen 4+ people in line for some of these photo spots.

shellie-may-posed-disneysea

There are a plethora of costumes available for Duffy and Shellie May (far more than are sold in the US parks), many of which are quite elaborate and expensive. However, serious Duffy fans make their own costumes.

tokyo-disneysea-duffy-135

These outfits are often times elaborate and beautiful. Think of it as Disneybounding for Duffy plushes. This is probably what I liked most about the Duffy phenomenon. Anyone can buy collectibles and souvenirs off the shelf and display them, but it takes dedication, effort, and skill to create something–it’s a way of making the plush their own. Plus, it gives other park guests something unique and cool to see.

Tokyo-Disney-Resort-Spring-2013-0390

Whenever I have spotted costumes that I thought looked homemade, I have stopped the guest with the plushes and asked them about their Duffys. There have been a couple of issues with a language barrier, but most of the time guests understand what I’m asking, and are enthusiastic to talk about their Duffys and have their photos taken. The Mister Geppetto plush above is my favorite costume I’ve seen.

Tokyo-Disneyland-Spring-2013-0249

These guests brought their Star Wars Duffy plushes for the grand opening day of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. On that particular day, there were a ton of Jedi Duffy posed in various places around Star Tours (usually with FastPasses to indicate the date) for photos. Duffy is one way the guests at Tokyo Disney Resort outwardly demonstrate their passion for those parks.

All of this is ultimately what turned me into a Duffy fan. Like I said, it’s difficult to explain, but I think Duffy brings a palpable energy to Tokyo DisneySea that makes it feel like more than just a beautiful environment. It gives it an added emotional resonance, and this is mostly through the guests with their Duffy plushes, as Duffy’s presence in the park itself is fairly mild. While I still don’t have my own Duffy, I respect and appreciate this feel that Duffy gives to the parks, and the zeal other guests have for him. Critics might argue that Tokyo DisneySea was an original, adult concept that didn’t need a mascot, but in fairness the same thing could have been said about EPCOT Center and Figment. Above all else, Duffy embodies how much guests in Japan care about their parks.

If you’re planning a visit to Japan, make sure to check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning Guide. It offers comprehensive advice for visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, plus general tips for visiting Japan!

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of Duffy? If you dislike him in Walt Disney World or Disneyland, does this change your opinion of him a little? Are you a Duffy fan? If you have any questions, tips, or thoughts to share, please post them in the comments. We love hearing from readers!

468 ad

31 Responses to “How I Became A Duffy Fan: The Duffy Phenomenon”

  1. Courtney says:

    I just bought my own Duffy at WDW. I’ve always thought he was cute, but what made me buy him was the yellow ponchos they sell for him. Those basically epitomize my childhood at WDW, so it’s more nostalgia than anything. I love the photo stands for Duffys!

  2. MrsM says:

    I’m still not going to be a Duffy fan but at least he makes more sense now. If I hadn’t grown up loving Figment I might feel the same about him. This post does have me wanting to make clothes for my favorite plush Figment so he can take photos all over Disney World.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Figment has a history of wearing different outfits (see the finale video of the original attraction), so I say go for it. Report back with some of the photos if you do it! :)

  3. Dan Heaton says:

    Interesting info on how Duffy works overseas. I’m not sure that’s going to pick up in the U.S., where it feels like Duffy’s being promoted on deaf ears. I recognize that Disney does so much marketing, and Duffy isn’t that rare. Still, it doesn’t have interest for me (or the kids thus far).

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I would say he’s not going to catch on here…at least unless something changes with how he is being presented. He’s been in the US almost 4 years at this point and is still relatively unpopular.

  4. Adam Lavender says:

    I was not a fan of Duffy until at AKL one evening when I watched the “Duffy Bedtime Story” which kind of introduced me to the story about how Duffy was created by Minnie for Mickey so he would have a companion on his travels. That sort of gave him purpose to me and while I do agree that he is solely been introduced as a marketing scheme . . . atleast they had a nifty story for the kids and us kids at heart.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think if that story were actually conveyed to guests in the park (and it takes more than a meet and greet to do that), Duffy would be a hit in the US, too. Having it on a TV channel that 95%+ of guests will never see is not enough.

      • Jeremy says:

        While this is true when our kids first saw this when we were at WDW in September 2012 they then wanted to watch it every night before they went to bed and my oldest complained that we hadn’t met Duffy while we were there. We made sure to go by and see him when we went to DL/DCA in August 2013. If enough little kids see the story and start liking him he could become their childhood memory the way Figment has for others. It could be a long term play, assuming Disney has the patience for it.

  5. Ray says:

    What have you done with Tom Bricker? ;)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Just to be clear, I’m only a fan of Duffy in Tokyo. He just works there. I am still anti-Duffy in the US. Not so much anti-Duffy the character, but anti the approach they’ve taken with him. I don’t really think anyone here dislikes Duffy as a character so much as what he represents–an attempt at a cash grab.

  6. Renee says:

    So I never even heard of Duffy, or noticed him till this past June when we went to Boma at AKL and while waiting in the lobby, the kids were watching a tv with Disney cartoons and one explained about Duffy. All the sudden, that is ALL the kids wanted so we came back with two Duffys and a couple of outfits.

    My kids are really into “hidden Mickeys” and there are Mickey silhouettes all over the bear so that helped! Personally I think he is super cute and I wish they would do more with him here in the States! My kids sat with me and looked at the pictures on this post and they wished there were those Duffy photo places at WDW!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think Duffy would have to become SUBSTANTIALLY more popular in the US before they would add the photo spots. Most of the time, Duffy’s meet and greet here has a 0-10 minute wait. In Tokyo, you’re lucky if you only wait an hour.

      I still think Duffy could be a successful character here, but a greater effort needs to be made to give average guests a *reason* to care about him. Disney can’t just put a bunch of merchandise out and throw a meet & greet together and hope the character catches on.

  7. Valerie says:

    My husband and I (more my husband) have a small obsession with Duffy. We are 29 and 30 years old with no kids as of yet. We’ve never been to the Japan parks (although we’d love to!). We don’t really know how it happened…we used to make fun of Duffy and not really understand why he was in the parks (probably like most people) but then something just kind of changed into us liking him. We like to watch the Duffy channel at the resorts because they play the old cartoons on it and it keeps us “in the Disney bubble” while we’re there, that and Stacy’s must-dos :). So we would see his little bedtime story at night. We went to Disney world for our honeymoon and for our 1 year anniversary, I got my husband a Duffy. Ever since then, he’s just represented the great time we’ve had on our honeymoon and subsequent trips. Also, he’s so cute and soft how can you not love him?! My husband just said- “if you don’t like Duffy, you must be a communist.” :)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      “We used to make fun of Duffy and not really understand why he was in the parks (probably like most people)…”

      I think that probably summarizes the average guest reaction to Duffy. Although there are hints of his backstory various places if you go looking for them, his connection to the parks or his story in general is not at all obvious at any of his meet & greet locations. He’s just a lonely bear at a random point in World Showcase, and from time to time, in the Magic Kingdom. There’s no context and really nothing more besides the bear. Most guests who visit Walt Disney World are not Googling Duffy to learn his backstory (I’d hazard a guess that most Disney fans aren’t even doing this), so for the vast majority of guests, there’s no chance at an emotional connection with that random bear. Unless it just happens to “happen.”

  8. Bernadette says:

    I was in the ‘eye roll at Duffy’ camp…until my 8 year old daughter fell in love with him last year. She loves looking at pictures of Duffy in the Tokyo parks – off to show yours to her now. Thanks Tom! :)

  9. Lacey says:

    I’m trying to hold out on buying Duffy for Shelly-Mae until I can go to Disney Sea in 2017 but I keep getting more and more tempted!

  10. Amy says:

    We took our niece for a birthday visit to disney world a couple of weekends ago. Both she and our daughter saw the Duffy TV spot and enjoyed it. Niece liked it so much she picked out a Duffy book and plush to take home to her baby brother. She was certain he would like Duffy more than Mickey.

    Who am I to argue with a little girl?

  11. Amy says:

    I should add that my brother is a captain and frequently away on overnight fishing g trips. That may help explain niece’s affection for Duffy and his story.

  12. Karen says:

    Great post! I was definitely on team “ignore/mock Duffy”, but those costumes people make for their Duffys are actually really cool. I’m probably never going to learn to sew well enough to make myself costumes, but I could definitely wrangle something for a Duffy. Too bad I’d look super weird showing up at WDW with a bear in a costume.

  13. aaron says:

    Great write up on something I don’t even like. I never knew why or where that bear came from

  14. Carly says:

    I first saw Duffy in DCA, where his meet and greet location was almost shoved down your throat on the way to Paradise Pier. My initial thought was that Disney just wanted to create a new character that could translate well into merchandise and an even easier character costume. Even looking at your photo of Duffy on the stage show with the Mickey and friends he looks like he doesn’t “fit.” This was a very interesting look into the culture in the Tokyo parks. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Deedee says:

    There’s an episode of How I Met Your Mother where Barney explains that the age and generation gaps are why some people like Ewoks and some people don’t. This might be the case with the Duffy bears as well.

    I am both Pro-Duffy and Pro-Ewok (:

  16. Bryan says:

    Neither of my children ever got into Duffy it was always the Fab 6 at Disney. I think they always felt it was a form of “Build A Bear” which they had at home with all the outfits. They loved those bears but there is only ONE Mickey for them. Personally send them all to the Tokyo parks and bring in better merchandise here.

  17. Lisa says:

    I love this! I’ve never had the slightest interest in Duffy and have been dreading the day my kids ask for one, but I totally love how much the Japanese fans love him. I’m pretty sure when we visit the Tokyo parks someday that I will have my own Duffy so I can photograph him in those cute little flip down seats.

  18. Spirit of 74 says:

    Gotta be the evil Spirit on this one, Tom. Can’t stand Duffy in any place. As to his history, you have much of it. He actually got his start HERE as the Disney Bear, which didn’t sell.They tried a resurrection when DD went thru on of its countless makeovers and they added the giant toy store with the Genie on top. That failed miserably as well. But you gotta admire a company that has created insane phenomenon like pin trading ($8-16 for a piece of metal that costs 10 cents to make) and vinylmation (what other company could get away with charging you for an item without telling you what you are buying and refusing refunds?)

    Anyway, they took him to Japan where anything cute is in (I could say it’s a reaction to Japan’s historical bloodlust as friends who friends who live there with Japanese spouses and frequent the parks have opined, but Ill save it for a thesis.) and gave him a name and a backstory (Minnie gave him to Mickey before his sea-going adventures) and the Japanese office girls went nuts

    And soon, the OLC was printing money with Duffy, which is why Disney has tried to force him on every audience they have around the globe.

    The folks in Tokyo are insane for him. I suggested to an American friend living there that if I were to take a Duffy plush and yell at it or worse …beat it, slam it on the ground etc. That a bunch of Japanese women would have tackled me and run to the defense of a piece of fabric.

    Indeed, my second day ever at TDL, I saw a girl (somewhere between 16-26, couldn’t tell more) SITTING in the walkway near Dumbo and Pan on the ground. She was a clear safety hazard …she was cradling her toy and, I kid you not, looking like she was trying to breast feed him. I would have taken a picture (I often do when I see mental illness on display at WDW), but I was in shock. And … CMs continually walked past her like nothing was amiss. Anyone could have tripped over her, but in a land where they will make you move three inches back in a parade standing area, this was NORMAL.

    Worse to me is that Duffy Mania has further dumbed down TDS’s very lacking merchandise quality. Talk to folks about what you could buy in Aunt Peg’s prior to Duffy. Nice themed merchandise.

    And it obviously isn’t going to end as Duffy’s likely the most popular ‘Disney’ character at TDR …hence his girlfriend and now kitty.

    I love TDR, Tom. I remember encouraging you yo visit not all that long ago. But Duffy? BLECH!!

    You are going soft!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Ha, I like that with your return to this blog, you first chose THIS post to read! How about this one: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/tokyo-hong-kong-honolulu-stopover-single-airfare/ I think it might be right up your alley.

      I have my own take on the *why* of Duffy and other kawaii things, but as I said in the post, it’s beyond the scope of this. I wouldn’t be surprised if our theories are similar.

      As to what Duffy has done to TDS, I have heard this from other longtime visitors of the park. My question…is it correlation or causation? Even without having been there back in the day, I say correlation. Duffy has displaced the unique New England merchandise in Aunt Peg’s, but how do you explain the unique merchandise gone elsewhere that has been displaced by candy and little disposable trinkets bearing no trace of Duffy? To me, it seems like more of an issue of merchandising doing a pivot based on what was and wasn’t selling. You and I have different takes on the whole issue of on-theme, real-world merchandise, so I won’t bother going further with my opinion on that…

      In general, I think it’s fair to say that the OLC has done a bit of a pivot on TDS in general. Initially, the plan was to aim for an older demographic due to Japan’s aging population. Look at EVERY addition in the last 3-4 years. The common thread? They all involve Disney characters. Based on the most recent annual report and 5/10 year plans, I think the OLC is looking to shift back to that original plan of targeting the aging demographic, but will that really happen with Glacier Bay being the perfect new port for adding a Frozen attraction? My money is on no–at least in the short term.

      I guess my point is that you can’t put the blame at Duffy’s feet for the changes at TDS. I think it’s a general change in vision that has included Duffy. He’s more symptomatic, rather than the cause of whatever “problem” there might be.

      Personally, I don’t think there is a problem (even if I would like a return to original attractions). I think Disney theme parks, even the conceptual ones like EPCOT Center and TDS, having a prominent mascot is not a bad thing. That doesn’t mean they should go crazy with total ‘toonification, but on its own, I think it can bring a sense of life to the park. If that makes me soft, so be it.

  19. Rachel says:

    Hello,

    32 year old from Québec, Canada, here.

    I have never been in a Disney Park before as we could never afford it but this year for my 33rd birthday in November, my spouse and I are making it to Orlando. (as an animator and big kid I am overjoyed, shame I couldn’t go while the studio was still open)

    I learned about Duffy sort of by accident from a video on youtube and a quick research lead me to the original Disney Bear story (which I prefer over the Duffy one) on how Mickey had spent the day going on rides and having a good time at the Magical Kingdom and as the night came he sat down in front of Cinderella’s castle with his Teddy Bear and sighed. He sudenly felt very lonely and wished he had a friend to share all those wonderful moments and memories with. Suddenly Mickey’s teddy hugged Mickey back! He had been brought to life by the magic of the place and all of Mickey’s love. And Mickey and his teddy shared so much fun that the Teddy got an imprint of Mickey’s silhouette in his face, on his paws, on his bum.

    Anyways, to me this story markets the bear as a friend to carry around and share the magic with.
    I can get behind that.

    Also the fact I have no history with the park helps, I have nothing to compare.

    But I agree that Duffy seems to be marketed without any personality in the US. There’s no magic, there’s no “Disney Spirit” if I may say in the Duffy I see here.

    And with the low grade quality of the toys and clothes (from what I see and read) just makes poor Duffy turn even more into a simple money cow and that makes people bitter.

    I can’t talk for Duffy’s quality much as I have yet to encounter one in person. However I’m familiar with the fabric I see on him… And it doesn’t help his case.
    In general I have seen a very quick and sad decrease in plushies quality coming from Disney. Personally I find that when Lilo and Stitch came out (the first one) it was the last of the golden age of Disney plushies.
    Nowadays everything is made out of either thin velours or that terribly cheap “eyelashes” fur. No more thick soft durable plush.

    Anyways, all that to say I agree, if Duffy was marketed differently he might be more of a success in the US. But also, I don’t know if “culturally speaking” it would be even possible to have the kind of success he has in Tokyo.

  20. Kate says:

    Hi, I love your post! I’m a big Duffy fan as well. When I first saw him, I wasn’t very pleased. He just seemed a little…sad? But everytime I saw him I learn to like him a little bit more. I got my first Duffy at WDW. I like him a lot. Just like how you said, he is family However, it wasn’t until the arrival of Shellie May that got me into this crazy mess. My intention was simple: to find Duffy a mate/friend. But when she arrived with her beautiful big blue eyes, I lost it. The quality control in Japan is impressive. Her fur is so soft, and her facial expression is really pretty. The clothing (my favorite is the sweet duffy 2014) is so detailed and the handwork is just out of this world. I have no idea how, but now I have 2 boxes of Duffy and Shellie May’s clothes, tons of badges, 7 and counting tote/duffle/handbag, etc. I really wish WDW will bring up their quality control. However, I understand that it is difficult, as the buyers’ point of view is different. In Japan, people love Duffy as a friend/family. But in the US Duffy is just a toy for children, and to honest, not many parents would spend that much money on a toy plush. It is hard to explain why Duffy fans love Duffy so much. Just like it’s hard for Disney addict to explain to regular people why Disney is magical to them. But regardless what other people say, I’m proud to announced I’m a big Duffy fan ;)

    Once again, I love your page!! <3

  21. Ben says:

    Thanks for this article, Tom. It’s really nice to see someone like you coming to this conclusion about Duffy on your own, and then writing a nice piece on the “why”. It’s difficult to explain the phenomenon to people in the US. After the half-hearted relaunch of Duffy here, I can see why. Disney as a whole has a problem putting its heart behind any product. Everything they produce these days is all about cash. Even collectibles. Yes, they have dedicated artists behind some of the nicer objects, but generally, we don’t get any kind of merchandise lines that are as well thought out as the Duffy line in Japan. I think it’s not necessarily a problem with Duffy either, it’s a Disney problem. That creates the perception though, that Duffy is a cash-grab. It seems more blatant to the more cynical American Disney fans.

    If Disney could have handled Duffy in a very similar way to OLC, and done a thorough job of introducing him to people, I think he could have found success, like Figment. Even creating a show for him, or something like that. Give him a real sense of place in the parks instead of a makeshift gazebo or pavilion.

    It’s interesting to watch people cheer that the Duffy meet-n-greet at DCA is now gone, to be replaced by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Granted, they are not in the same location, but apparently to save on the budget, they just axed one character in favor of another. However, those same people that are happy to see Duffy go, are happy to see Oswald. So, adults…who are now the ones waiting in line to meet Oswald, have an issue with a plush bear. Yes, Oswald has some established history, but he’s been absent for so long, that really he doesn’t have all that much more history than Duffy. Both Oswald and Duffy can be seen as underdogs who were not given a fair shake.

    It’s amazing to see just how much the Japanese fans love Duffy, and the effort they will go. Also, it’s interesting to watch how OLC handles the merchandise. Yes, they also want money, but Japanese companies as a whole, seem to pay more attention to aesthetics when they release consumer goods. Even cheap things at least look good. So, with Duffy in TDS, there is bountiful supply of things to buy, but they are so well designed and thoughtful that it seems less of a crass marketing scheme, and more of a loving fan community. Although ask some of my friends who visit TDS on Duffy release days and they will tell you a different story of mass chaos and the dark side of Duffy fandom, but that’s another topic. On the whole though, looking at the way OLC handles Duffy, it’s easy to see why he is loved. Disney really didn’t even bother to adopt that model when transitioning the bear back to the States, and it shows.

    Although it will be interesting to see what happens now that ShellieMay is being introduced at Aulani resort in Hawaii, and also at Hong Kong Disneyland. So, Duffy’s presence diminishes just as she arrives? Interesting choices there, Disney…

    Thanks again, Tom, for articulating your Duffy “conversion”, it was nice to read that as opposed to the usual bashing he gets elsewhere.

  22. Zonia says:

    I love Duffy. My Duffy even has his own facebook page. It’s called “Duffy’s Adventures.” He has a closet full of different clothes and I try to post a pic of him every other day or so. Bears bring smiles to people’s faces. For me it is just fun. My daughter has hit the age where she doesn’t want her picture taken with every monument or place of interest. So to make my picture special I put Duffy in it. If there wasn’t something special to me in the photo then I may as well be looking at anyone’s picture of a monument or place of interest on the Internet. I wish we had photo spots for Duffy here in the states. My arm isn’t really long enough to take Duffy selfies. It’s sometimes difficult if he doesn’t have a nice clean place to sit.

  23. Arisa R. Hancock says:

    Firstly, I enjoyed reading this article!

    I am a half Japanese and half caucasian-Murican. Naturally, I grew up going to both Tokyo Disney parks and Orlando Disney parks. When I became a big kid (aka an adult ish haha), I chose Los Angeles for uni, so I was lucky enough to experience the LA parks as well. Yes, I am a big disney fan :)!!

    Like the blog post, the biggest difference I noticed between the Disney parks in the States and the ones in Japan was and still is customer/ consumer culture. And I have to admit, I had to somewhat put on different masks in the American parks and the Japanese parks -it’s quite sad but not unusual considering most of bi-racial, cultural and lingual kids do just that with pretty much everything.

    I guess this customer/ consumer culture difference is most evident with the Duffy merchandises, but with other things as well.
    I think the Japanese Disney goers tend to “go all out” in comparison to their American counter parts. Personally speaking, except for the one time I went to the LA Disney with a bride-to-be sorority sister and her future bridesmaids sorority sisters and highschool graduation trip to Orlando Disney which most kids in my class were drunk on excitement for college and (many cases) actual alcohol, I don’t remember myself or many people in the parks above age 12-13 fully decked out in Disney goodies, costumes, and etc. On the other hand, it’s very common to see people from all age groups dressed up in costumes to clothes that look very similar to those of disney characters’ year around in the Japanese parks!! I even heard that with the American Disney parks, adults aren’t allowed to wear costumes :( ?! But, well. I think it’s good that American children get to dress up & many actually do dress up like their fav princesses, characters and etc.

    I think it’s this cultural difference that made Duffy possible and successful in Japan, but not so much in the US. Japan is also a collectivist society, so when you see a couple of people carrying duffy merchandises around, the next thing you know, more and more people will carry duffy around!
    Though I’m a part of this TDL/TDS fandom (I’m an annual pass holder to both Tokyo Disneyland and Sea since I moved back), I am often surprised to see this duffy, shellie may (duffy’s girlfriend), and now gelatoni (duffy’s friend cat) craze.
    Another thing Japanese customers love (this is beyond Disney. Convenient stores to bakeries and other businesses do this as well) is the seasonal, limited edition merchandises. I often see people lining up and buying up those limited edition goodies, but with duffy, shellie may and gelatoni, these things are gone if you are too late!!!
    I think Disney’s marketing scheme is genius and almost border line scary haha

    And to just tell an interesting side stories, Tokyo Disney Sea’s Cape Code within the American Water Front Area used to belong to Mickey& Minnie and Donald & Daisy before! They wore those nautical sailor clothings. The shops there had their merchandises and the hamburger place which now offers duffy everything (even a show) used to sell mickey shaped burgers. But now this whole Cape Cod area is all about Duffy and Shellie May. Oh and Gelatoni as well.
    The Mediterrean Harbour area that’s closer to the New York Harbour/ streets is also totally taken over by Duffy and Shellie May as well, but mainly Gelatoni since he was released in July. Also, Gelatoni seems like an Italian cat? haha and the whole Mediterranean harbour’s theme being Italian…maybe?
    Oh, while Duffy and Shellie May are still popular, it seems Gelatoni is the most popular thesedays. Most of the shops in the Mediterranean harbour to the Cape Cod have reduced their Duffy/Shellie May sections, and Gelatoni’s sections tend to be bigger.

    I think all Duffy, Shellie May, and Gelatoni are very cute. I never had or will have any of the bigger plushes, because I’m not really into it. But I do have the smaller ones for my keys. As explained in the post, Duffy felt lonely because Mickey and Minnie are an item. So Minnie made Shellie May for Duffy, so he can have a special friend too. But I think I will be pissed at Tokyo Disney if this cat Gelatoni goes around feeling lonely and wanting a special friend too!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>