Duffy (ダッフィー) and Shellie May (シェリーメイ) are two bears exclusive to DisneySea at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Despite being a prominent icon, the origins of the bears are shrouded in mystery. There are no English articles on the internet on the Disney Bear. It took a certain amount of digging through various Japanese sites, to full discover the true history of Duffy. This article will finally disclose the origins of Duffy.
Disney have been making Disney bears since the 1960s but it was only on November 5th 2004 that Oriental Land Company (the company behind Tokyo Disney Resort) decide to reinvent a mascot for their new park. The Disney Bear was given the name Duffy and a new back story was created to tie in the character to the DisneySea experience. Duffy would become the key mascot of DisneySea’s American Waterfront world.
The full tale, is presented as a children’s book available for sale at select shops within DisneySea. Each bear also comes with a tag with a foldout featuring the summarized story. An animated version of the story tags are available from the official Duffy website but for the benefit or non-Japanese readers, the story goes something like this.
The Duffy story:
P1. It was the evening before Mickey had to go on a sea voyage, afraid that he might get lonely alone, Minnie made a teddy bear for Mickey.
P2. Minnie presents the gift to Mickey and he is thankful.
P3. He decides to call the teddy bear inside the duffel bag Duffy.
P4. He brings the bear with him as he travels around the world. In this way, Duffy is able to experience all the joyous moments that Mickey experiences too.
The Duffy story was clearly fabricated to sell more merchandise. What was surprising though was how popular this bear would become. Currently, the Duffy bear comes in 4 variations. The default sized bears pictured in this post measure 30cm (40+ while standing). Both of them cost 3800 yen each. This is the only size that the Shellie May bear comes in, so is the only option for a matching pair. Official outfits for the bears are also only available for the 30cm bears (more on this below).
A larger 65cm Duffy is available for 5000 yen, though it seemed somewhat under stuffed. For those who want to take home a smaller souvenir, a 14cm Duffy keychain is available for 1200 yen. Finally, an awkward Duffy wristlet is also available for 2600 yen. It’s a 26.5cm hollow Duffy with a zip on its back. Duffy can be found at the larger souvenir stores within DisneySea at the Mediterranean Harbor, American Waterfront and Mermaid Lagoon. The bears are not available at the adjacent Disneyland.
Since both the keychain and wristlet versions are disregarded as proper bears, the most popular version of Duffy is the more manageable 30cm standard. On online auctions, the bear fetches a price of up to 4 times its cost.
Initially, special edition versions of the Duffy Bear in different attire were sold during special events. But eventually in 2008, DisneySea started selling clothing sets for the standard sized bear separately. It was the 25th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Resort, so a new clothing set was released on the 25th of each month (they are released on a random day each month now).
It was during this time that the Duffy bear saw a surge in popularity among young women. They unexpectedly started carrying the dressed bears as a fashion statement within both parks. This trend soon reached viral levels leaving even the Oriental Land Company (who never planned this event) stumped.
During this peak of Duffy’s popularity, queues to take photographs with the life-sized Duffy mascot would even reach 4 hours in length. While the insanity has since died down, the culture of showing off one’s own Duffy still remains. Today, Duffy is as synonymous (and profitable) to the Tokyo Disney Resort as Mickey Mouse itself.
Leveraging on the success of On 22 January 2010, the park released the blatantly commercial companion bear to Duffy, Shellie May. Little effort was put into her introduction story.
Shellie May origins:
P1. Minnie makes a friend for Duffy. “It is completed!”.
P2. Duffy is embarrassed to received Minnie’s present.
P3. In front of him he meets a cute female friend.
P4. She had a charming shell pendant in the shape of a heart. “Nice to meet you Shellie May!”.
Both the Duffy and Shellie May bears are similar in appearance. They both share the same Mickey Mouse marks, though on different sides of their backs. The Shellie May marks are also produced in pink instead of Duffy’s brown.
There are key differences between the two bears though. The most obvious being that while Duffy is vibrant brown, Shellie May seems to be a lighter beige. Her eyes are also blue instead of dark brown. Overall, when compared with the richer Duffy bear, the Shellie May bear seems rather washed out. This is still the first version of the bear though so it is possible that it may be improved in a future version.
Each season sees new outfits available for the bear. Over the years a variety of themed costumes have been made. Avid fans have also taken to creating their own costumes.
Unfortunately for those unskilled with a needle and thread there are scarce options to customize the Shellie May bear. The newly released bear fits all existing Duffy outfits but the only costume specifically made for Shelly May is her default burlap dress. While the bear comes with her ribbon, this default dress has to be purchased separately for 1200 yen.
Right now, it is unknown how long the default dress for Shellie May will sell for. In the case of Duffy, clothing are only sold for as long it takes to introduce the next outfit. This limited edition nature means that previous costumes can often be sold on the secondary market for more than the bears themselves. So while paying 1200 yen for a simple costume might seem like a tad bit much, be assured that it will be worthwhile investment.
As commercial as the bears may be, they are still pretty well made. And despite being a marketing ploy, the idea of being able to own a bear exclusive to DisneySea is certainly an attractive concept. If you were to get one souvenir from the park, wouldn’t it be the one that couldn’t be found anywhere else? The bear’s reputation precedes it though, for the truth is most of the other merchandise in the parks are also unique to the resort. But the timeless nature of the classic teddy bear, makes it a cherishable purchase nonetheless.
Without saying, this enamored writer purchased both the Duffy and Shellie May bears from Tokyo DisneySea. It took a great deal of self control, not to purchase the American Waterfront’s themed popcorn that came in a Duffy basket. A full photo tour of my own DisneySea experience can be found on this day’s post.