After 5 years, Duffy the Disney Bear is saying goodbye to Epcot. It has been confirmed that October 3rd will be the last day for guests to meet the character at his Showcase Plaza location. Although Duffy never appeared in any animated films or television shows, he does have an important connection to the most famous Disney animated character of all: Mickey Mouse.
The Disney Bear, as he was originally called, was introduced in 2002 as the latest Walt Disney World souvenir: a teddy bear with markings resembling the tri-circle Mickey symbol on his face and paws. Although the toy came and went without causing much of a stir in Florida, it was a much different story when he was introduced to Tokyo DisneySea a couple of years later. With a new name and origin story, Duffy the Disney Bear became an enormous hit among Japanese tourists, rivaling even Mickey himself in the amount of merchandise sold. Disney had hoped for a similar reaction when reintroducing the rebranded bear to its stateside parks, even adding a designated meet and greet location for Duffy in the heart of Epcot.
The story of Duffy was explained in a series of open book pages placed along the queue to his gazebo at the entrance of World Showcase. They told of how the teddy bear was made by Minnie Mouse to keep Mickey company on a long ocean voyage on which he was about to embark. Over the course of the trip, Mickey took pictures of his new bear with the places and people he encountered along the way, which he was able to share with Minnie when he returned home. An expanded version of this story could also be found in a picture book sold in the parks and the “Duffy the Disney Bear Bedtime Story,” which airs nightly on a special channel at Walt Disney World Resorts. While it’s certainly a cute story, it’s clear that it wasn’t reaching all guests given the number of times I’ve overheard Epcot visitors ask “Who’s Duffy?” and “What movie is he from?”
Despite in-park efforts to promote him and his connection to Mickey, the teddy bear’s character greetings never attracted the same attention that they did in Tokyo. Although Disney is scaling back on Duffy in the parks, he won’t be leaving completely. Merchandise featuring the bear will still be sold at Walt Disney World for the time being, and guests visiting Disney’s overseas parks will still be able to meet or see the cuddly character in various entertainment offerings. However, anyone looking for a bear hug while at Epcot will have to settle for one from Winnie the Pooh from now on.