Many people have seen this bear around the Disney parks for quite a few years now, and are confused about his name. Well, basically "Duffy" started out as "Disney Bear". This character was created as a marketing tool to help launch a new toy store at Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney Marketplace. In 2002 a new store opened, called "Once Upon a Toy". It was a remodel of a previous location. Disney needed something do draw attention to this new store, and so they came up with a gimmick. A teddy bear that had familiar "Mickey Mouse" shapes all over his body. His face had the familiar "three circles" shape. His feet had the "Mickey Mark", as did his backside. There was a story created to go along with this new bear to explain why he had these Mickey shapes all over him. I won't go into detail about the story, I'll save that for a later post. However, I'll give you a basic idea. Mickey was in the Magic Kingdom one night, and was lonely. Tinker Bell saw this and granted life to Mickey's teddy bear. Mickey hugged him and his bear was forever stamped with Mickey's circle shapes as a sign they were friends forever.
In general, it's a cute story, but it isn't terribly compelling. Also, the poor bear was never given a real name. It's only referred to as "Disney Bear". I would think that if it was Mickey's best friend, it would be called something, don't you? Personally, I think this was a key flaw in the launch of this new character. So, Disney had this new plush, and a story to go with it. They launched "Once Upon a Toy" with some fanfare and hoped this new bear would get people talking. There were several colors of the plush released. Brown, black, white, pink, purple, blue, gray, and teal. Here's a picture of a brown one....see the Mickey shapes?
Here is a tan colored one, that would later become "Duffy"...I'll get to that!
These original versions of the "Disney Bear" were about 16 inches high, and roughly the same size as a plush animal you could buy from "Build-a-Bear Workshop". They were very soft and cuddly, and had nice, fluffy fur. The quality was very good. However, the bear never really caught on. It was made available in other Disney theme park stores around Walt Disney World, and eventually even traveled to Disneyland in California to also be sold there. After a few years of being on store shelves on both coasts, Disney decided that "Disney Bear" wasn't as successful as they thought, so they sent the remainders to the Disney outlet stores. If only I had a time machine to go back and snatch up as many as I could from those outlets...
I know, you're thinking, "but I saw "Disney Bear" at one of the parks last year, or a month ago!". Well, Disney eventually tried again with various updates to the design. There was "My first Disney Bear" dressed like a baby. They had pastel pink or yellow "Princess" versions. Then, they shrunk the size to about 12 inches tall, and started releasing them as seasonal "gift with purchase". Each holiday would be a new color and you could buy one for $10 if you spent $50 or more. They also sold these at the now closed "World of Disney NYC" on New York City's 5th Avenue. I bought one of these. The quality was not as nice as the originals, but the design was basically the same.
A few years ago they changed the design again and started selling the bears at the parks again, and even created little t-shirts to put on him. Here is what the most current design looks like. You can even buy them at Disney Store online.
These are also about 12 to 13 inches tall. Not quite big enough to wear "Build-a-Bear" clothes, but not the size of the usual bean bag plush. All through his redesign phases, he's had the same story that Disney manufactured for him. He may look a little different from his 2002 launch, but his concept is exactly the same.
Now...while Disney was doing all of this, the owner and operator of the Tokyo Disney Resort "Oriental Land Company" (referred to as OLC from here on out) decided they would try to launch this character as well. So, for the Christmas season of 2004, OLC launched "Disney Bear" exclusively at Tokyo Disney Sea in the American Waterfront section of the park. There was no change in his story, or name at that point. He was still called "Disney Bear", and was still pretty generic. There was only one option for color though, the tan/creme version. OLC opted not to release any of the other colors, only the more natural looking bear. It was a slow start. There were sporadic releases of bears with different costume accessories throughout 2005, but the momentum was not there yet.
Then, in 2006, someone decided the bear needed a true name, and a backstory that would truly fit his presence at Tokyo Disney Sea. So, they "relaunched" the bear there, only this time he was confined to the Cape Cod section of American Waterfront. He got a new name, "Duffy", because Mickey carried him in his duffel bag. There was a completely new story written with a nicely illustrated storybook. This version of his "creation" goes something like this. Mickey was going on a long sea voyage, and Minnie didn't want him to feel too lonely. So, she made him a teddy bear for good luck, and put a message in a bottle around it's neck. Mickey took the bear with him on his boat, and the bear visited Mickey in his dreams and read Minnie's message to him. When Mickey woke up, the bear had a sailor costume on, and the message was out of the bottle, and in Mickey's hand. This was some special teddy bear! When Mickey got home he told Minnie, and all of his friends, and they wanted a special bear too. Minnie made everyone their own "Duffy", but couldn't keep up with the demand. Mickey's friends all helped her and they made many Duffy bears for everyone.
So, isn't that quite a different story than the one created for "Disney Bear" in Walt Disney World? After he got the name change and new story, something else good happened. It was Tokyo Disney Sea's 5th Anniversary in 2006, so they decided to create costumes for Duffy that tied in with the anniversary. There were 5 in total, and they were sold separately from the bears, so you could mix & match. This is when the ball really started rolling. In 2007, he got more costumes, like a sweater set, pirate outfit, and his first Halloween costume. Finally, in 2008 for Tokyo Disneyland's 25th anniversary there was an explosion. Each month saw a new costume based on a Cast Member's costume in the parks. This was in addition to Halloween and Christmas costumes. Duffy Mania was starting! Fans bought the bear and his costumes and started to carry him around in the park. This was mostly confined to Tokyo Disney Sea, but if you walked around you would see many people, men, women, and children, all carrying a Duffy bear.
This is what he looks like:
2009 saw Duffy get his own special event called "Sweet Duffy". This was a fairly small Valentine's themed affair in Cape Cod. One of the existing cafes was themed to Duffy, and he got a special costume to coincide with it. He was a cute little cafe waiter, with an apron and a smile. Here's what he looked like:
There was also a new line of costumes created for Duffy called, "Cape Cod Seasons". Each costume was season appropriate, like a gardening outfit, and a raincoat for spring; a swimsuit for summer, Halloween costumes for fall; sweaters, pajamas, and peacoats for winter. It was turning into a regular phenomenon! By this point, Duffy's fans were starting to create cottage industries by making their own costumes for him. If you went to any Japanese auction site, you would find many home-made outfits of any design. Some even thought Duffy might be a girl, so they made dresses for him....eh, "her".
OLC saw how successful Duffy had become and in 2010 decided that he needed a "friend". Speculation ran wild on the internet, and any number of animals were thought of. Would it be a sea lion, a cat, a bunny? Well, in January of 2010 we found out. It turned out to be another bear just like Duffy, only she was a girl named "Shellie May". She is a soft shade of pink, and has bright blue eyes, and of course, a bow. How else can you tell a Disney girl apart from her male counterpart? Here is what Shellie May looks like:
In addition to her, there is a new stage show created to tell the story of Duffy. It's called "My Friend Duffy". It replaced "Donald's Boat Builders" at Cape Cod Cookoff. Now it's the middle of 2010, and Duffy has become a bonafide hit in Japan. So much so that apparently sales of Duffy and Shellie May merchandise make up 25% of the total sales for the entire resort! Another brand new costume line has been created to incorporate Shellie may, called "Hello from Cape Cod". There is no end in sight to the Duffy madness. Disney has even noticed just how well their Japanese partners are doing with this bear that they created. In fact, Disney is about to relaunch "Disney Bear" in America...again! This time, he will be launched as "Duffy", finally. He will debut at EPCOT and Disney's California Adventure parks on October 14th. We'll see if America is ready for Duffy mania, and for fits of deja-vu. I mean, many people have seen this bear around before. Lots of people don't know he had a detour by way of japan though, and he's got a rabid fanbase.
So, did I cover the basics? I could go into lots more detail...and I will! That's what this blog is for...to help people figure out who Duffy is, and to share him with all of his English speaking fans. There are many Japanese fan sites, but I hope to be his first American ambassador.