These Disney Characters Are More Popular Than Mickey Mouse in Asia
Hour-long meet-and-greet lines, walls of merchandise, sweets shaped like familiar faces — it’s all part of the Disney-going experience. But at parks overseas, it's not Mickey and Minnie garnering guests’ attention, it's Duffy and Friends, a ragtag group of bears, a cat, and a bunny that have spurred fanatical followings and a merchandise frenzy.
Duffy the Disney Bear, along with his friends ShellieMay, StellaLou and Gelatoni, have grown a massive mainstream fanbase at Hong Kong Disneyland, Shanghai Disney, and Tokyo Disney Resorts on par with the brand’s most successful characters, even if you’ve never heard of them before now.
As the backstory goes, Duffy the Disney Bear originated as a gift from Minnie tucked within Mickey’s duffel bag — hence the name — to serve as a companion on his long journeys away from home. ShellieMay came next, a companion and girlfriend in-kind to Duffy who was made by Minnie Mouse to keep the stuffed bear company.
From there, the backstories become more fantastical. Gelatoni, a cat who paints masterpieces with the tip of his tail, met Duffy by creating art from Duffy’s spilled gelato ice cream; StellaLou, a feminine rabbit ballerina, met Duffy while rehearsing and shared her aspirations to dance on Broadway. At the same height, size and fuzzy demeanor as that of Chip ‘n’ Dale, it’s unclear if they’re all stuffed animals or anthropomorphic creatures of their own — but fans are obsessed nonetheless.
Duffy, Gelatoni, ShellieMay, and StellaLou are fixtures in stage shows and parades, performing alongside classic Disney characters like Pluto, Goofy and Donald Duck but drawing bigger crowds than the main mouse himself on their own.
Lengthy lines of fans sporting accessories with familiar animal faces snake down Main Street, U.S.A. at Hong Kong Disneyland, the only Disney park where guests can meet Gelatoni and StellaLou. At Tokyo Disney Sea, fans spend their days alongside Duffy dolls, perching their costumed plush bodies atop Fujifilm-sponsored “photo spots” — ledges that make it look like Duffy, too, is having a fabulous vacation.
The entirety of Tokyo DisneySea’s Cape Cod-themed area is even devoted to Duffy and his pals, where meet-and-greets draw crowds and merchandise flies off shelves, even without a storied 89-year past like Mickey’s.
When StellaLou was introduced last summer, there were chocolates, cookie tins, and makeup pouches to celebrate her arrival along with hot beverage bottles, multicolor ballpoint pens, ID purses and plush keychains; despite having no nostalgic ties, fans snapped them all up. The breadth of products reach so far beyond that of Mickey-shaped waffles and ice cream bars that Hong Kong visitors could find StellaLou-shaped buns filled with sweet purple potato and Tokyo guests were able to indulge in a pink pita sandwich served in a collectable lunch bag featuring the bunny’s likeness for her debut
The treats only add to to the widespread collection of Duffy, Gelatoni and ShellieMay-shaped treats, including panna cotta, cookies, cupcakes and other treats sold throughout the Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong theme parks.
Though Duffy, ShellieMay, Gelatoni and StellaLou can’t be found within American parks, it’s not as though hometown crowds were never given a chance. Duffy The Disney Bear was introduced stateside at Walt Disney World and Disneyland parks in 2010, and while Duffy dolls are still for sale at park shops, the meet-and-greets faded away as the character never took off the way it did in Asia. Duffy and ShellieMay do continue to make rare appearances at Aulani, Disney’s Hawaii resort, which hosts plenty overseas visitors and recently added Gelatoni merchandise to its stores, but it’s not the same.
You’ll have to travel to China or Japan to see Duffy mania firsthand, but you can always see the head mouse in charge in the U.S.