D23 Expo 2019: Robert Downey Jr., Ming-Na Wen, Jon Favreau, and More Honored as Disney Legends

Credit: The Walt Disney Company/Image Group LA

To kick off the 2019 D23 Expo, Disney added a dozen stars from across film, television, music, and the entertainment industry into its exclusive list of Disney Legends. Among those honored were Robert Downey Jr., Ming-Na Wen, Jon Favreau, Christina Aguilera, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, iconic choreographer Kenny Ortega, and composer Hans Zimmer. 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.

This year, fans said goodbye to Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame so it’s fitting that he would receive the Disney Legend honor in 2019 too. He’s the man who launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On stage, Downey Jr. thanked fellow honoree Favreau and the many Marvel fans for believing in him and for their enduring support. 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.

Credit: The Walt Disney Company/Image Group LA

It also seems fitting that Downey Jr. would be honored at the same time of Favreau. They started the journey of Marvel together with Iron Man. Since then, Favreau directed Iron Man 2, 2019’s The Lion King, and the live-action remake of The Jungle Book. He’s also on board as executive producer and writer for The Mandalorian, a new live-action series from Lucasfilm coming to Disney+. 

“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,” Favreau said.

Jones hardly needs an introduction. As the voice of Darth Vader and Mufasa, he’s brought two legendary characters to life on the strength of his baritone alone. Although Jones was not at the ceremony, he did provide a thank-you video which ended by him saying, “Thank you, and may the Force be with you.”

Credit: The Walt Disney Company/Image Group LA

Wen holds a special place in many Disney fans’ hearts for voicing Mulan in the classic 1998 animated film. She’s also beloved for her role as the badass Melinda May on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Speaking about Disney’s impact on fans of all ages, Wen said,  “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. So thank you to Disney for providing and continuing to give us stories and imagination and love.”

Midler is perhaps best known to Disney fans for her role in the beloved Halloween classic, Hocus Pocus. Sadly, Midler was not on hand to accept the Disney Legends award because she was stuck in traffic. Her daughter, Sophie Von Haselberg, accepted on her behalf and read the speech Midler had prepared. “In all my performing life, and that’s 50 years now, I have never called myself an artist,” Von Haselberg read. “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.” Midler can add the Disney Legend award to her Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, and Tony honors. 

Credit: The Walt Disney Company/Image Group LA

Aguilera, who was a member of The All New Mickey Mouse Club back in the day, sang “Reflection” from to kick off the Legends ceremony at D23. She first sang the song for Mulan’s end credits and soundtrack. When she accepted her awards, Aguilera laughed and said, “This is way cooler than a Grammy, I thought you should know.” As someone with a lifetime of experience with Disney, Aguilera spoke from the heart saying, “…the world of Disney has made me feel like anything is possible from a young age.” That includes the lessons she still feels in “Reflection.” “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].”

As a choreographer and director, Kenny Ortega helmed Newsies, Hocus Pocus, the High School Musical films, and the Descendants franchise. Receiving the Disney Legends honor was a dream come true for Ortega. “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.”

Other new Disney Legends include Robin Roberts, who spent 15 years at ESPN before moving to ABC’s Good Morning America, and Diane Sawyer, a renowned broadcast journalist who worked on ABC News for 30 years.  Rounding out the honorees were choreographer and former Disney Studios vice president/show director of special events Barnette Ricci and Wing T. Chao, who designed and developed projects for Disney parks and resorts worldwide.

Stephanie Coats
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