Sunday, September 19, 2010

Duffy Bear, meet Optimus Prime

In a new effort to give EPCOT’s World Showcase more kid appeal, and to give the parents of said kids an exciting new opportunity to shell out more money for merchandise, Disney is bringing in reinforcements from Japan . Duffy the Disney Bear, a teddy-bear-like character who’s been very popular at Tokyo Disneyland, will get his own Meet-and-Greet on October 4th, at the gateway to the World Showcase. Also, Duffy will be for sale in each World Showcase country, wearing a country-specific costume.

A lot of old-school Disney curmudgeons like myself are irritated by this. Unlike Mickey, Donald, the PIxar characters, or the princesses, Duffy did not begin life as a character in an animated feature. He started as a piece of merchandise, and now he’s being promoted as though he were a “real” character all for the purpose of selling toys to children. Those of us who grew up during EPCOT Center’s 1980s heyday just can’t remember a marketing campaign ever targeting children this way:


Optimus Prime disagrees

Except the most treasured pieces of our childhood, that is. Yes, the 1980s were chock-full of toys that were given their own Saturday-morning cartoon shows for the express purpose of marketing them to children! Transformers, He-Man, GI-Joe, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite: these things that virtually defined childhood for anyone who grew up in the ‘80s weren’t created to bring joy to little kids, they were there to wring money from the parents of elementary-school children. None of that mattered to the kids, of course. We just loved our licensed characters and the cartoons in which they appeared. We may have known that the cartoons were only created to market the toys, but we didn’t care. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Duffy gets his own Disney channel show or direct-to-DVD feature in the near future.

Of course, the whole Duffy thing does seem to point to a disturbing mindset on the part of Disney Parks management, a mindset that the parks exist primarily to sell merchandise and the attractions are simply there to implant a desire for whatever is sold in the gift shops they exit into. Speaking as an adult, I find this kind of thing to be crass and almost offensive. But back when I was a six-year-old, and the Hasbro corporation was using a red-and-blue truck that transformed into a giant robot to separate my parents from their money, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Next time, I’ll be talking about Disney’s tendency to tie almost every new attraction into a licensed character, and why this is all our fault.

1 comment:

  1. Gotta keep the growth going, and since the parks seem to be pretty well sold out every day (always so crowded) I suppose that, other than raising ticket prices, there isn't a really good way to expand revenues other than merchandise.

    It's too bad they have to have a perpetual growth mindset...


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