Thursday, March 15, 2012

Konnichi wa, Duffy-san!

Duffy, the Disney Bear, has existed at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme parks for just over a year now.  There has been an abundance of Duffy themed merchandise, a children's book written about the bear, and even a meet-and-greet with the real-life Duffy.  But, a lot of people don't understand the idea behind the little guy.  He isn't a classic Disney character, and a lot of times he gets a lot of flack for being "another one of Disney's marketing schemes."

I'm not gonna lie.  In a lot of ways, those people are completely right.  Yes, the 20+ outfits available for Duffy at $15-20 an outfit can seem like a bit much, especially since the bear himself costs $30.  However, when one looks at the background of Duffy the Disney Bear, one really begins to see why he isn't such a horrible idea.....

You may have noticed that the title of this blog is in Japanese.  Well, that's because the Duffy phenomenon started in Japan.  At Tokyo Disneyland, Duffy the Disney Bear is so popular that in order to buy him or one of his many (high quality) outfits, you have to stand in lines that can exceed two hours in length, and it is commonplace to see grown men and women carrying around their little stuffed friend as they tour the park.  In short, Duffy, and his girlfriend, Shellie-May, are a huge success story in Tokyo.
Most people have at least some basic idea where Duffy came from.  However, Duffy's backstory (or lack thereof) tends to be the most bothersome issue for most people who don't understand Duffy mania.  In the United States, Duffy's backstory has been radically simplified from what it was in Japan, which, in this blogger's opinion, is one of the biggest issues.

Duffy's American backstory is quite simple.  Mickey is going away on a long trip around the world.  Minnie is worried that he will get lonely while he's away, so she makes him a teddy bear and gives it to Mickey before he sets sail.  Mickey names the bear "Duffy" since Minnie gave him the bear in a duffle bag.  Anytime Mickey gets loney while on his voyage, he hugs Duffy and thinks of Minnie and all of his friends back home, and he feels better.  He also takes pictures of Duffy during his travels to send home to Minnie and all their friends.

In Japan, the story is a bit more complicated than that.  Mostly because in the Japanese version of Duffy's story, the first time Mickey hugs Duffy while he's awat, his love for Minnie and Minnie's love for him brings Duffy to life (and also gives Duffy his "Hidden Mickey" face).  This would explain the giant, life-size Duffy who currently meets with guests at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.  It also gives Duffy a more magical quality and makes him seem more like a real character, at least in my eyes.

What I like about Duffy (and yes, I like him) is the fact that he can become a travel companion, especially for younger children.  He isn't too cumbersome to carry around the parks with you (I know from experience), and characters and cast members alike love to see him.  Additionally, stealing Mickey's idea for taking pictures of Duffy during your travels can make for some very cute photos, especially for guests who have visited the parks in the past and don't want to get their own pictures taken.  He can be a fun conversation piece, too, especially for people who make their own outfits for their bears or buy outfits that aren't sold by Disney (Build-a-Bear outfits fit Duffy quite well and, from what I can tell, are better quality than the official Duffy outfits.  And they're cheaper).  I once saw meet-and-greet Duffy go absolutely wild over a child's Jedi Duffy. 

Overall, I think Duffy has cemented himself as a piece of Disney history.  The bears sell very well, as do the costumes (though some of the merchandise, like the Duffy themed Mickey ears, I have to question....).  Whether you love him or hate him, Duffy is likely here to stay.

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