Disney Replaces Mickey Mouse With $500 Million Character

in Disney Parks

A red symbol over Mickey Mouse's face as he stands in front of his house in Toontown

Credit: Disney

As Disney celebrates its 100th anniversary, one thing is abundantly clear: Mickey Mouse is no longer the star of the show.

While the Walt Disney Company had its start in 1923, it took five years for the studio to pin down a mascot. Fresh off the theft of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks came up with a new creation – a mischievous mouse named Mickey.

Mickey at Disney World in front of Cinderella Castle
Credit: Disney

Related: Just How Many Mickeys Are There in Disney World?

Every Disney fan knows Mickey’s origin story, from how Walt originally wanted to call him “Mortimer,” but his wife insisted on “Mickey,” to how he made his big screen debut with Steamboat Willy. Now 95 years old, the mouse is just as iconic as ever, serving as an icon for all things Disney.

Mickey Mouse at Disney Parks

When it comes to the Disney Parks, Mickey is omnipresent. Upon arrival at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and all other Disneyland-style parks in the world, guests are greeted with iconic Mickey topiaries. Variations of Mickey are available to meet in Anaheim, Florida, Tokyo, and beyond.

Mickey Mouse outside of Riviera Resort
Credit: Disney

He fronts numerous stage shows and parades, including Mickey and the Magician at Disneyland Paris and Mickey’s Magical Music World at Tokyo Disneyland. You can meet him during character dining, spot him in fireworks displays, or even stumble across him at a Disney hotel. In short, Mickey Mouse is everywhere – and it would take a lot to boot him out of the public consciousness.

The Rise of Duffy

Enter “a lot.” Duffy the Disney Bear had his humble beginnings at Once Upon a Toy in Disney World’s Disney Springs (then Downtown Disney) in 2002.

Duffy the Bear (teddy) posing at a sailor wheel
Credit: Disney

Originally intended as a limited offering to entice guests into the store, Duffy soon caught the eye of The Oriental Land Company – the owner and operator of Tokyo Disney Resort – which was looking for fresh ideas for its parks.

Knowing that teddy bears are culturally popular in Japan, Duffy was the obvious choice. Two years after his Florida debut, Duffy hopped over to Tokyo Disney Resort, where he was aggressively marketed to the masses. And we mean aggressively.

Duffy and all his friends posing as Cosplay Characters in Tokyo Disney
Credit: Disney

Within a few short years, Duffy went from a walk-around character at Tokyo DisneySea to a phenomenon. The park’s Old Cape Cod land was rethemed to incorporate more Duffy. Donald Duck was removed from Cape Cod Cook-Off Theatre, where a Duffy-centric stage show – “My Friend Duffy” – replaced “Donald’s Boat Builders.” Lines would form around the park every time a new costume dropped, which forced Tokyo Disney to introduce a purchase limit.

Duffy met a similar reception at Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland. This led to the expansion of an entire Duffy universe. New friends joined Duffy in the parks, including ShellieMay (considered the Minnie to Duffy’s Mickey), Gelatoni the Cat, and StellaLou the Bunny.

Duffy and Gelatoni with a painting of Duffy on stage
Credit: Tokyo Disney

Related: Beloved International Disney Character Finally Makes His Way to U.S.

In Disney’s domestic parks, however, Duffy’s popularity dwindled. He was removed from EPCOT in 2015 and scrapped from both Disneyland Park and California Adventure. But is that about to change?

Duffy in 2023

As always, Duffy is thriving in Tokyo. In addition to boatloads of merchandise, you can see Duffy, ShellieMay, and more in Tokyo DisneySea’s “Duffy and Friends’ Wonderful Friendship,” which replaced “My Friend Duffy” earlier this year.

Duffy and Friends topiaries at Shanghai Disneyland
Credit: Disney

Hong Kong Disneyland has Duffy and Friends Play House, where guests can meet the whole crew. The park also hosted its first-ever Duffy and Friends Fans Day earlier this summer.

Meanwhile, Shanghai Disneyland dubbed this September “Duffy Month,” complete with limited-time performances, new Chinese-inspired costumes for the characters, Mid-Autumn Festival editions of their stuffed toys, and a Duffy-themed hotel room. CookieAnn – another of Duffy’s friends – even has her own bakery in the park.

Linabell and Olu Mel
Credit: Disney

Duffy’s friend LinaBell – a pink fox – is especially big in China. Upon her debut in September 2021, plushies sold out so quickly that scalpers were reselling sets of three for 10,000 Chinese yuan ($1,570). An influencer was even jailed for selling counterfeit LinaBell merch.

The Future of Duffy

All things considered, it should have come as no surprise when Disney revealed that Duffy is one of the company’s best-selling products. As per last week’s investor summit, Duffy reportedly generates $500 million in annual sales.

Duffy the Bear posing at an EPCOT Meet and Greet
Credit: Disney

Related: Viral Report Canceling Mickey Mouse Reaches National Publication

With numbers like this, it’s unsurprising that Disney is trying to further integrate Duffy into its global brand. Duffy and friends are set to star in their own six-part, stop-motion series for Disney+, and Duffy will appear in the upcoming revival of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

As younger audiences are introduced to Duffy in the US, it seems inevitable that his presence will grow in the parks, too. He’s already started to creep back in; the recently unveiled Disney100 mural at EPCOT features Duffy and ShellieMay. Duffy has also popped up for surprise appearances at RunDisney events.

Mickey, Duffy, and StellaLou in front of a car and boat
Credit: Tokyo Disney

Fans have long speculated that Duffy will make a triumphant return to US soil someday, and right now, it feels more likely than ever. The question is, will he start encroaching on Mickey’s territory as in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong?

While Mickey has a major presence at all three resorts, there’s no denying that he’s forced to share the spotlight with Duffy. The latter has just as much – if not more – merchandise as the mouse. He has his own festivals, his own shows, and has even replaced Mickey Mouse on multiple occasions, such as earlier this year when Hong Kong Disneyland replaced its Mickey planter with Duffy.

Considering Mickey’s cultural importance in the US, we’d say it’s near-impossible that Duffy will replace him completely. However, if Duffy’s inevitable reintroduction to the States is half as successful as his reign in Asia, Mickey is about to face his toughest competition yet.

Do you want to see more of Duffy in Disneyland and Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments!

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