Disney legends indeed.
A new class of honorees was inducted Friday at a star-studded ceremony to kick off the D23 Expo, Disney’s biennial fan convention. According to the company, a Disney Legend is someone who has “made remarkable contributions to the Disney legacy,” and this year that meant 12 famous faces across film, television, music, and more were all added to the legendary list.
This year’s honorees included:
Robert Downey Jr. made his Disney debut with the 2006 film The Shaggy Dog, but is of course known for bringing the character of Tony Stark to life in the Iron Man and Avenger films, the former of which effectively launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Downey Jr. kept things light during his appearance by apologizing for some of his past behavior. “The very first time I went to Disneyland I was transported to another place within moments of being arrested,” he joked. “I was brought to a surprisingly friendly processing center, given a strict warning, and returned to, if memory serves, one very disappointed group chaperone. I’ve been sitting on that shame for a while and I‘m just going to release it here tonight.”
On a more serious note, he thanked fellow honoree Jon Favreau and the fans for the honor. “For my part, playing Tony over many years, the thematic idea that technology can guide our species towards enlightenment or destruction, it’s been a really worthwhile and ongoing meditation. Honestly it’s been a great gift,” he said.
Christina Aguilera first joined the Disney family as a member of Disney Channel’s The All New Mickey Mouse Club. She also sang the pop version of “Reflection” from Mulan for the film’s end credits and soundtrack, and she revived the song to kick of the Legends ceremony at the expo. The singer has appeared on dozens of Disney television shows and specials, including Dancing with the Stars and ABC’s Nashville in 2015.
“This is way cooler than a Grammy, I thought you should know,” Aguilera said, laughing, upon accepting her award. On a more serious note, the singer noted that “the world of Disney has made me feel like anything is possible from a young age.” Of “Reflection,” she said the lessons within the song have stayed with her. “To live your truth, to show who you are inside, to be brave, to be a fighter — and now these are messages I can pass on to [my kids].”
Speaking of Mulan, Ming-na Wen voiced the fiery warrior in the 1998 animated film and currently stars on ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “If Disney doesn’t personify all our dreams and all our hopes and our heart and our love for fantasy and believing in the hero in all of us, then there’s no magic anywhere anymore in this world,” she said onstage at the event. “So thank you to Disney for providing and continuing to give us stories and imagination and love.”
Favreau directed the first two Iron Man films, 2019’s The Lion King, and the upcoming live-action remake of The Jungle Book, in addition to executive producing and starring in several Marvel movies. Favreau wore a suit with a picture of Simba inside the jacket to the Legends event, where he praised Walt Disney as the original master of creating “indelible memories” and for tapping into stories that “went all the way back into human history.”
“I thank Disney and all of you for the opportunity to tell these stories, to explore technology, and help bring magic to the next generation,” he concluded.
Bette Midler famously worked with Disney by starring in the beloved Halloween classic Hocus Pocus and can add Disney Legend to her titles of Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, and Tony winner. Midler got stuck at an airport en route to the event, and Disney boss Bob Iger introduced her daughter, Sophie Von Haselberg, to accept the award on her behalf. Von Haselberg read the speech her mom had prepared, which in part read, “In all my performing life, and that’s 50 years now, I have never called myself an artist. I never thought of what I do as art. I thought it was just entertaining. But in joining this class of artists today, after all these years, I feel that I have finally earned the right to call myself an artist. So thank you for this. And thank you for that. I’m very grateful.”
James Earl Jones has provided some of the company’s most iconic voices over the years, including Darth Vader and Mufasa, the only character to have the same voice in the 2019 remake as the 1994 original. Jones wasn’t in attendance at the event, but fans still got to enjoy his legendary voice in a thank-you video, which he ended by saying, “Thank you, and may the Force be with you.”
Robin Roberts spent 15 years at ESPN, including as host of SportsCenter, before moving to ABC’s Good Morning America where she remains a co-anchor.
Diane Sawyer is a renowned broadcast journalist who has been part of the ABC News family for three decades.
Both journalists praised the other in their speeches, with Roberts saying of Sawyer, “We called ourselves Thelma and Louise back in the day. But let me tell you, with Diane Sawyer, to this day, every day is a masterclass in watching her, so I’m grateful to her.” During her speech, Sawyer said Roberts is “life-giving, amazing.” “You don’t remember the first time I fell in love with you completely but we were on TV, I was introducing you,” she said of Roberts. “I mangled your name, I mangled why you were there and the camera went to you and you went, ‘Well, whatever.'”
Choreographer and director Kenny Ortega helmed Newsies, Hocus Pocus, the High School Musical films, and the Descendants franchise. At the ceremony, he talked about how he grew up watching The Mickey Mouse Club and always dreamed of being a part of it. “The Mickey Mouse Club, that’s what set me on my life path, in pursuit of my dreams,” he said. “Today is just extraordinary. I’m officially in the club.”
Composer Hans Zimmer has provided unforgettable scores to many Disney movies, including the Pirates of the Caribbean films and The Lion King.
Choreographer and former Disney Studios vice president/show director of special events Barnette Ricci, and Wing T. Chao, who for decades designed and developed projects for Disney parks and resorts worldwide, round out the honorees.
All honorees received a Disney Legends sculpture and will have their names and handprints enshrined in Legends Plaza on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California.