Duffy and Friends Panel at Disney FanDaze

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Hey guys!

Now that I've covered off the main FanDaze party with you, I wanted to take some time to share what happened at the panel I attended, hope you enjoy!

During the FanDaze party, a number of panels were held with various Disney Imagineers that gave us an opportunity to get even closer to the magic, one of these panels was focused on Duffy and friends, and this was the thing that motivated me to attend the whole party! The panel was held during the party at 8:30 pm in the Art of Animation show building, tickets were sold separately to the main party for this and it was priced at €25 a head, and lasted around an hour.

The panel featured 3 guest Imagineers that all have links to the creation of Duffy and his friends, Daniel Jue, Ethan Reed and Charlie Watanabe, and was hosted by a very charismatic CM called Julian. After a brief introduction and a little warming up the crowd, it was time to get acquainted with the Imagineers.

Daniel Jue was first to speak, Daniel is the Portfolio creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, his Disney career, however, started 30 years ago in Disney stores. When he first moved to Imagineering he worked as a show set designer, his credits include Florida's Tower of Terror, Test Track and Indiana Jones at Disneyland Resort in California. Later he had design credits on Pooh's Hunny Hunt, which opened in Tokyo Disneyland in 2000, For Expedition Everest, Daniel was involved in both the track design and layout and the design of the mountain itself, which he says he climbed many times during its construction! Daniel lived and worked in Japan for 4 years before being asked to return to Disneyland Resort where he was then asked to oversee a portfolio which included Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. In 2019 Soarin is set to open at Disney Sea, and 2020 sees Tokyo Disneyland receive it's biggest expansion to date which includes a new Minnie Mouse meet and greet location, and a Big hero 6 and a Beauty and the Beast attraction.

Next, we met Ethan Reed, brought up in a family of Disney fans Ethan explained how Disney had a huge influence on his life from an early age. He grew up to study character animation at Cal arts and this is where his Disney career began, he has animated shows for the resorts including Great Moments with Mr Lincoln. He also has design credits for Florida's popular attraction Seven Dwarfs mine train, and worked on Mystic Manor on Hong Kong Disneyland, designing both Albert the Monkey and Lord Henry Mystic.

Charlie Watanabe was the last Imagineer on the panel, like Daniel, his Disney career began in the 1980s when he worked with the Disney on ice team in Japan. From here Charlie went on to work on Disney Live and other Japanese stage shows, before becoming a project member for the opening of Tokyo Disney Sea in 2001, more recently, he worked on Nemo & Friends SeaRider which opened in 2017.

Next, it was time to get down to the really good stuff, how did a little bear named Duffy become the success he is today? Well to answer that you need to know where Duffy started life. The original Disney bear from which Dufy's origins can be traced back to began life at Walt Disney World in Florida, the unnamed bear was spotted in 2003 by Tokyo Disneyland who expressed an interest in bringing the bear to their resort. Walt Disney Imagineering believed to do well in Tokyo the bear would need a name and a backstory, and thus development for Duffy began.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Duffy's story it begins with Mickey Mouse and his cruises from Tokyo, Mickey got lonely on long trips away from Minnies o she decided she would make him a teddy bear to keep him company. When Mickey arrived home from his latest trip Minnie handed him a small brown bear in a duffel back, and Mickey named his new friend Duffy. Mickey took Duffy on his next trip and when he was sad and missed Minnie he would cuddle his little bear and it helped him feel less alone. He dreamt about Duffy and all the adventures they could go on together and sent postcards home to Minnie and all their friends! Seeing how much fun Mickey was having with Duffy soon Donald, Daisy and all their friends wanted a Duffy too, and so Minnie with the help of these friends made more Duffy bears so everyone had one to keep them company.

Duffy wasn't instantly popular when he arrived in Tokyo Disney Sea, and in keeping with his story, he was only sold in one shop in Cape Cod, Aunt Peg's. His popularity grew over the next few years and guest began to bring their bears back for return visits to the resorts with them and would dress them up in lots of different outfits. Noticing how popular they were becoming, and that the bears were being dressed in both boys and girls outfits, the team decided it was time Duffy had a friend.

The second friend is the series is, of course, the bear we all love and know as Shellie-May, but upon her original conception, she was named Daphne as this sounded good when paired with Duffy. Shellie-May ended up with her final name after Duffy gave her a shell necklace to wear and decided to call her Shellie. With the introduction of a second bear the popularity of Duffy in Japan went from strength to strength, the bears even became known outside of Japan with Duffy meeting in Epcot at Walt Disney World, and alongside Mickey in Disneyland Paris. The team wanted to expand the collection, but knew they would have to do something different in order to keep all of the friends unique, they noticed that Duffy had a very neutral personality, he didn't have any strong interests or motivations, and this was something they wanted to work on.

As work began deciding what new friends to introduce to the series the animators looked at lots of different animals they could use so that they could introduce new stories and adventures into Duffy's world. The team decided that before any new friend of Duffy would be introduced they needed a specific home and a strong personality trait around which to build their story.

The third character in the Duffy and Friends series is a little Italian Cat who we now know as Gelatoni, but Gelatoni's story could have been much different! He actually started life as a Pirate cat from Mediterranean Harbor, but it was decided this didn't fit in with the Duffy and friends stories already in place, eventually, Gelatoni's story was reworked and he became the painter we know and love today. Based on Ethan's youngest son Noah Gelatoni meets a very sad Duffy bear who is on holiday with Mickey when he drops his Ice cream, Gelatoni uses the ice cream to teach Duffy how to paint and this is how they become friends, his name coming from the Italian Gelato. The team didn't want Gelatoni to look too much like Duffy and Shellie so a few different colours were tried throughout the creative process. We were shown lots of concept art of different colours and slightly different body styles, we were then told that as the inspiration for the character, Noah was the first person to meet the Disney parks version of Gelatoni, what an amazing privileged!

The final of Duffy's current friends is, of course, Stella-Lou, like Shellie-May this wasn't her original name and she was once called Ruby after a Ruby necklace she wore. Even before that Stella-Lou wasn't a girl Bunny at all, but a boy named Broadway Bunny! As the character developed she became the Lilac coloured Ballet dancer called Stella-Lou who taught Duffy how to dream and how to aspire towards a goal, her name Stella is a translation of the word star, as Duffy told her he thought she was already a star! We were shown some videos of the Stella-Lou launch as well as lots more concept art, we were also given this Stella-Lou concept lithograph to keep at the end of the panel!

After being told about the development of each character, Daniel and the team spoke to us about the culture of Duffy and friends and how this has evolved as he has become more popular. We learnt about the concept of "I-ya-shi" a Japanese desire to be cared for, comforted, protected and loved, a desire which for many, is filled by Duffy and his friends. They explained how the demographic of Duffy fans, though primarily females from upper teens to around 40 years of age, actually transcends this and he is now popular all over Japan and China across all demographics. They described Duffy and his friends as not just being friends, but being a lifestyle, with special areas built into the parks to take posed photos of your companions, and with restaurants offering high chairs specifically for Duffy and friends to be able to sit and join the meal as part of the family. They explained how you will often see the bears carried facing forward so as to be able to enjoy the view too, and treated like family and like a travelling companion as Mickey treats Duffy in his original story.

Finally, we were shown some of the Japanese advertising campaigns for Duffy, where he and his friends are shown in their adventures on regular TV to help promote and sell them. All the adverts contained on thing in particular, and that was a slogan " Something good might happen when Duffy is with you", the team explained that Duffy is seen as a symbol of luck and happiness, and this is something I could definitely appreciate when I thought about my own relationship with Duffy and his friends, this was a really sweet way to end the panel.

There was time for a few questions so you can bet my hand went straight up before they could even finish asking if anyone had a question! I asked if there were any plans to reintroduce Duffy and friends to the US and European markets, and although they didn't rule this out, I'm sad to say I didn't get a resounding yes either! When the panel finished, there was a brief opportunity to meet Daniel, Ethan and Charlie, and having spoken to them I can confirm they were all lovely, and so happy to chat with people who clearly loved their creation so much! In particular, I enjoyed talking to Ethan, and as I was bounding as Gelatoni for the event, this was a great conversation starter. I even managed to get my hard ticket for the panel signed by all three Imagineers and to me this was a priceless opportunity and something I will cherish for a long time!

Overall I really enjoyed the panel, I thought it was a good length, contained a lot of content, and was good value for money. I would have loved to have seen them give some information about Duffy's new friend, who will be launching in Hong Kong Disneyland later this year but can understand why this was kept under wraps. I have also heard some people say they were disappointed that there wasn't a lot of new information in the panel, and though I can agree with this to some extent, for me being able to see people speak so passionately about a character I'm also so passionate about, was what I wanted most out of the experience, which didn't disappoint.

My only complaints about the panel were both down to timing, first of all, in hindsight the panel was a huge chunk of time during an evening when there was already too much to do. As I mentioned in my review of the main party, by the time I left the panel most of the first set of character queues were already closed, and this meant I really needed to make the most of the second character set if I was going to see any of the characters on my most wanted list! In an ideal world, I would have liked to see the panels held during the day before the party, possibly at one of the hotel convention rooms, or in the events domes in the village. Secondly, I paid for my panel tickets in January when I first booked the package, then just weeks before the event an additional panel was announced, free of charge for Infinity annual pass holders this would be a special talk by Catherine Powell. Immediately I was excited and wanted to attend this talk and see a woman I admire speak about a park I care so deeply about! So imagine my disappointment when it is then announced this panel would run during the exact same time as the Duffy one! During a 6 hour event, I'm surprised that this needed to be the case and feel like they could have scheduled it better so that the panels didn't overlap and people weren't forced to make the choice between the two. Again, holding these events outside of the main party hours in future may help to stop this happening, hopefully, one day my path will cross with Catherine!

A huge thank you goes to Lydia for letting me use some of her photos from the evening! Please check out her Instagram!

So that was my experience of the Duffy and Friends panel at Fan Daze. Were you there? What did you think of the panel? Did you attend any other panels on the night? As always drop me a comment below!

Hoodsie xx


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