Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau were among the actors, filmmakers, and other artists named Disney Legends at the Walt Disney Company’s D23 Expo 2019 on Friday morning (August 23). Also bestowed with the company’s highest honor — a Disney Hall of Fame, if you will — were luminaries like Ming-Na Wen, James Earl Jones, Bette Midler, Hans Zimmer, Christina Aguilera and more.
Disney CEO Bob Iger kicked off the ceremony — which also opened the biannual Disney fan experience — by promising that it’s “never been a better time for the Walt Disney Company, or to be a Disney fan.” Iger’s opening remarks came after a highlight reel that encompassed the vast magnitude of the company’s entertainment properties and included newly acquired Fox properties like Deadpool and Planet of the Apes (although it was apparently too late to edit out a quick shot of Spider-Man that flashed on the video screens at one point).
Downey Jr. was the first Disney Legend to receive his honor, with Iger crediting the actor for not just delivering an “iconic” performance as Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008), but for launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself. Downey’s speech was customarily self-deprecating and droll, with the actor noting, “The very first time I went to Disneyland, I was transported to another place…within moments of being arrested.” (Apparently he was smoking something he shouldn’t have been.)
Downey — who just retired as Iron Man after 11 years and 10 films — thanked Disney, Marvel and its team of executives, and his “brother,” Jon Favreau, also being honored for his contributions to the company.
While Downey looked toward the future in his remarks, commenting on the potential of technology, Favreau glanced back at the past when he came up to receive his Legend award — not just for his direction of the first two Iron Man movies, but his work on films like The Jungle Book and The Lion King.
Paying homage to the company’s founder, Favreau remarked, “Walt Disney was the master of bringing the old myths and technology together to create a culture that we all grew up in…I thank Disney and all of you for the opportunity to tell these stories and help bring magic to the next generation.”
Iger also broke a little news as he introduced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Mulan (animated version) star Ming-Na Wen, revealing that Wen would appear in the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian in an undisclosed role.
Wen herself alluded to the news, excitedly saying, “I’m such a geek girl, so please keep acquiring all these different franchises because I keep getting employed by them….I’m hitting my whole bucket list thanks to Disney.”
Noting that she met her husband while starring in her breakout role in Disney’s The Joy Luck Club, Wen added, “Disney provided me with not just a career family, but my real family.”
Others who were named Disney Legends included iconic actor and the voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, composer Hans Zimmer and actress Bette Midler — none of whom were able to appear in person. Jones and Zimmer sent brief video messages, while Midler’s daughter emotionally read her mom’s prepared remarks (weather apparently prevented Midler’s flight from taking off the night before).
Also included in this year’s roster of honorees were singer Christina Aguilera, journalists Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, choreographer Kenny Ortega, Disney Parks architect Wing T. Chao, and live show/parade producer Barnette Ricci.
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