Monday, September 20, 2010

Duffy Arrives at DCA!

For a select few annual passholders, Sunday was a truly momentous occasion--Duffy the Disney Bear made his first appearance at Disney California Adventure!

For anyone not familiar with Duffy, he's a cute teddy bear belonging to none other than Mickey Mouse himself. He was actually originally introduced in toy stores in Disneyland and Walt Disney World over six years ago, known simply as "Disney Bear" and garnered very little attention. But over in Japan, little Duffy made a major impact and is a much beloved character in Tokyo's DisneySea park--so beloved that a line for a meet-and-greet with him rivals that of any E ticket attraction.

So this Sunday was an interesting re-introduction for Duffy to America, particularly since plush "Disney Bears" were still populating shelves in Disneyland gift shops as recently as last week. Two presentations were held for select annual passholders at the long-ago shuttered Stage 17, once home to the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" themed attraction. In order to reserve a spot for the event, annual passholders needed to register online weeks in advance, and these spots had all been snatched up in a short time, but there did appear to be a number of empty seats in the soundstage building.

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed during the show, which contained surprisingly high production value for such an exclusive audience. The event lasted little more than a half hour but contained a plethora of information about Duffy's much heralded arrival in DCA. First, a host, aided by cartoon images on large screens mounted on either side of the stage, narrated Duffy's backstory, or "bear-ography"--just before leaving on a sea voyage, Mickey was given a teddy bear that Minnie sewed herself. The bear, which she gave Mickey for good luck and companionship on his long trip, came in a duffel bag, and so the name "Duffy" stuck.

The current Disneyland ambassador came out, accompanied by his stuffed Duffy bear, and talked about the popularity of Duffy he witnessed when visiting the parks in Tokyo. He was followed by an executive in charge of merchandise synergy--which, of course, is really the name of the game with Duffy's relaunch. The hopes are high on re-introducing Duffy here in the States and creating the same merchandise phenomenon that exists in Japan. She had a lot of the details on Duffy's imminent arrival.

Duffy is scheduled to arrive in DCA on October 14th in a big way. His merchandise, which will include 17 inch and 24 inch plush bears and his many costumes, will be sold at the Treasures in Paradise store on Paradise Pier. There were some sketches of costumes soon to be made available on display in the back of the theater, and photos of stuffed Duffy bears wearing various costumes were shown on the big screens, to the ooh's and aah's of the audience. Costumes will include holidays (a pumpkin Halloween costume, a bunny-themed Easter outfit), international themes (specifically, costumes from the nations represented in Epcot's World Showcase in Florida), and a line of Pixar movie-related outfits. There will also be magnets and key chains and other Duffy-related items.

Adjacent to the store, Duffy himself will be available for meet-and-greets. A sketch of the backdrop in front of which he will be posing for photos was shown, which resembles the side of a ship with a well-placed porthole forming a hidden Mickey.  Upon meeting Duffy you'll even be given a sticker to wear, which will proudly proclaim that you met Duffy.

In addition to all this, there will be Duffy-related food offerings. A special Duffy crisped rice treat and a chocolate treat with ganache will be available, and there will even be kid's menus at various restaurants featuring Duffy. And in the Spring, an entire line of the popular Vinylmation figurines will not only feature Duffy but actually be shaped like him (instead of Mickey!).

One of the keys to Duffy's success in Japan is that he is, as per his backstory, a travel companion.  Each of the Disney presenters brought his or her own Duffy onstage and told about the places Duffy had accompanied him or her.  Of course, Duffy's favorite places to travel are the Disney parks, and so there will be special photo spots scattered throughout DCA where you can snap a photograph of your Duffy bear.  Photos of this kind are very popular in Japan, and slide shows of Duffy bears posed in front of various attractions at Tokyo DisneySea are ubiquitous on YouTube.

After some more information about Duffy--he is evidently very tech-savvy, according to the Disney executive, and will have his own Facebook profile, and you will soon be able to follow him on Twitter--it was time for the bear of the hour to arrive. Duffy was given an entrance fit for a rock star with music and twirling spotlights as he bounded in through the doors to the back of the audience and up the aisle, giving high-fives to nearby audience members. Duffy was sporting his sailor outfit--his trademark outfit in his appearances at DisneySea, Tokyo's nautical themed park, and one of the major differences between Duffy and his former Disney Bear incarnation. On stage, he pointed out the hidden Mickey birthmark on his rear end--the same as can be found on the stuffed bear. He couldn't stay long, unfortunately, as Mickey was expecting him--so with a wave goodbye to the audience, he retreated backstage, not to re-appear until next month.

After the show concluded, the audience had the opportunity to purchase a 17 inch Duffy bear and his sailor costume--again, a month before the general public will be able to--and, in a nice touch, there was even an annual passholder discount applied to the purchases. There was quite a long line for the registers as it seemed most in the audience were eager to bring Duffy home. Two Duffy bears had even been given away to lucky audience members during the show, and everyone in the audience had a chance to sample one of Duffy's new crisped rice treats.

All in all, it was quite the introduction for a Disney character in anticipation of his coming to the theme parks, particularly when he was in fact being re-introduced. But with the potential to be as popular as any of the Fab Five (in Tokyo, Duffy may indeed be bigger than Mickey Mouse himself), it may prove to be a fitting welcome. For many fans, Duffy can't come to the park soon enough!

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