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Disney In Depth: Recognizing The Next Disney Legends
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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Two years ago, in light of the D23 Expo 2015, I named six individuals paramount to the success of The Walt Disney Company who should be named Disney Legends, the highest honor that can be bestowed. I think it is inevitable that Joe Rodhe, for instance, renowned Imagineer with those awesome earrings, who I contended should become a Disney Legend, will one day attain that honor. This prompted me to reflect on individuals within The Walt Disney Company, whether they have more recently joined the corporation or have been directly or indirectly part of its framework, who have a high chance of being recognized as Disney Legends at some point.

I had planned on publishing a column about the next set of individuals who would likely be recognized as Disney Legends, but The Walt Disney Company beat me to the punch by recently issuing a press release of its nine forthcoming Disney Legends. You’ll have to take my word that I predicted Stan Lee, Garry Marshall, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill would be named as Disney Legends this year. That said, I am excited to share my thoughts on these four, as well as five others, who will obtain this major honor at the D23 Expo.

Stan Lee

In 2011, Disney posthumously recognized Jim Henson for his brand of characters that have been part of the company for several decades, and owned by Disney since 2004. In 2013, Steve Jobs, who had recently passed, was named a Disney Legend for shaping the foundation of Pixar. At the last Disney Legends ceremony it was Star Wars creator George Lucas to get the honor. I suppose it was only fitting that another brand Disney acquired should have its head honcho rewarded as a Disney Legend. Stan Lee, the mustachioed writer and creator behind Marvel’s illustrious set of superheroes, is fundamental to the longevity of these characters. He continues to make hilarious cameo appearances in all of the Marvel Studios projects, and for Disney more directly, he voiced Fred’s dad in Big Hero 6 and will reprise the role in the upcoming TV series. Lee is a legend in every sense of the word and, at 94, he more than deserves to be given a Disney Legend award this year.

Stan Lee

Garry Marshall

Considering I already wrote an entire article about the late Marshall, whose film and television contributions for Disney spanned several decades and countless beloved projects, it is easy to say he is already a Disney Legend in the minds of many. The Princess Diaries and Pretty Woman are just two examples of iconic films in which he lent his humorous and heartfelt touch. They were box office sensations for The Walt Disney Company and could not have been possible without Marshall helming them.

Carrie Fisher

Like Marshall, this is one of those situations where an individual’s unexpected passing may have prompted the selection committee to feel like it should honor a notable figure. For Carrie Fisher, whose death reverberated the world over, her recognition as a Disney Legend is a testament to portraying a character that defined a new type of heroine. While I initially predicted that Fisher would be recognized, I also thought that Hamill and Harrison Ford would join the Disney Legend ranks. So it seems, Ford’s time has yet to arrive. My suspicion is that, upon the release of the next Indiana Jones installment in 2019, the 2019 D23 Expo will be the perfect time to honor the actor who has played two rugged protagonists. Nevertheless, as Princess Leia, Fisher was inimitable and unforgettable. Fisher will play a more prominent role in December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and we can only expect Fisher to deliver in her final film role; it has been confirmed she will not appear in Star Wars Episode IX.

Star Wars Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia

Clyde “Gerry” Geronimi

While Clyde Geronimi is one honoree who may not be as recognizable to individuals not familiar with Disney history, his contributions were quite monumental. For one, he co-directed all of Disney’s animated features from the 1950s (Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty, the last in which he served as supervising director). He also co-directed One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Already that sounds like a distinguished career. Even more, his animation and direction were integral to countless short films from the 1930s and 1940s, including Lend a Paw, which won an Academy Award. Over nearly three decades, Geronimi strengthened Disney animation through his keen eye and artistry.

Mark Hamill

There is no Luke Skywalker without Mark Hamill, the central figure of the original Star Wars trilogy. He returns – in a speaking role, as opposed to his brief appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – in The Last Jedi. Hamill’s significance to the Star Wars legacy is much like Fisher, in that his humanity to the character has resonated with many generations. Thankfully, he will continue to add new richness to Skywalker in the forthcoming feature. Perhaps his Disney Legend award should feature a lightsaber attached to the top of the statue?

Star Wars Celebration 2015

Manuel Gonzales

Remember those old Mickey Mouse comics? You can thank Gonzales for them. From The Walt Disney Studios’ infancy to 1981, Gonzales was responsible for not only the Sunday Mickey Mouse strip, but also many other illustrations for Disney books and comics. He set such a precedent in bringing the fun, humor, and engagement of Disney animation to the fingertips of individuals, who had been accustomed in only seeing these characters on screen. What a guy!

Julie Taymor

For a change, a key figure to the success of Disney Theatrical gets the Disney Legend limelight. Julie Taymor’s vision in directing The Lion King on Broadway, which has now appeared in numerous countries all around the world, has allowed Disney to reap the fiscal and critical awards for two decades. Her honor at this time likely reflects the show’s 20th anniversary, and without her instrumental capacity, it may not have experienced such success. I always find it a little bit difficult to digest the notion of someone being inducted into the Disney Legends family for just one contribution, but what a project this was. Kudos to Taymor.

A video celebrating The Lion King on Broadway, from the Disney on Broadway YouTube channel, is below.

Wayne Jackson

Entering Disney during one of its most creative periods in 1965, toward the end of its presence at the New York World’s Fair and also the earliest days of Walt Disney World’s envisioning, Jackson’s aptitude in technology facilitated the translation of those World’s Fair attractions to the Disney parks. Additionally, he assisted in the functionality of Disney’s most popular and enduring attractions, including The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. We are very thankful for his role as a Disney Imagineer, for his creations still play a role in the parks today.

Oprah Winfrey

Will this Disney Legend award be named as one of her favorite things of 2017? It might as well be. Winfrey is universally adored, and for Disney proper, her most significant role was in voicing Tiana’s mom in The Princess and the Frog. She also stars in the forthcoming A Wrinkle in Time. At first glance, you might think, “how do these few roles make her one of the Disney Legends?” Well, consider that most ABC-owned stations aired her long-running, syndicated talk show, she has produced several movies for ABC, and she starred in Touchstone’s Beloved. Indeed, Winfrey is a worthy recipient of the prestigious prize.

Winfrey discusses starring in A Wrinkle in Time in this video below from the Access Hollywood YouTube channel.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.

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