Do you know about the Disney Legend Award? Did you know you could be part of Disney Legends legacy by joining in on the ceremony in person? I’ve got the details on this prestigious award, who earns this recognition and how you can be part of Disney history.
Disney Legends Status
Bob Iger, Chairman of The Walt Disney Company said, “The Disney Legends Award is the highest honor we can bestow . . . it’s a recognition of talent, a celebration of achievement, and an expression of profound gratitude to the remarkable men and women who have made an indelible mark on our company and our creative legacy.”
To achieve Disney Legend status, in my opinion, is within the ranks of being awarded an Oscar, GRAMMY, Tony and other awards presented only to the very best in their field.
However, the Disney Legend Award is not just limited to actors or musicians. While there may be many famous Legends you know, there are also individuals who play a less public-facing role in The Walt Disney Company including directors, choreographers, journalists, composers and more.
And as such, you’ll find recipients from across a spectrum of industries like film, animation, parks & resorts, television, music, administration. If they’ve made an impact on the company, they might be in the running for a Disney Legend Award.
The first Disney Legends Award recipient was named in 1987. Previously it was given annually, but now takes place every other year during the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California.
Disney Legends Award
The Disney Legend Award itself is a physical award, along with status and a space to honor recipients at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Disney Legends Plaza.
“The Disney Legends award has three distinct elements that characterize the contributions made by each talented recipient. The Spiral—stands for imagination, the power of an idea. The Hand—holds the gifts of skill, discipline and craftsmanship. The Wand and the Star—represent magic: the spark that is ignited when imagination and skill combine to create a new dream.” -D23.com
The first Disney Legends statue was handcrafted by Walt Disney Company’s Andrea Favilli who was an employee at one time. The same design has been used to recreate a physical award for each Disney Legends recipent .
In 1998 Disney Legends Plaza was dedicated onsite at Walt Disney Studios. In addition to the statue award, plaques honoring each Legend surround Disney Legends Plaza. This same area is home to a familiar statue you might recognize from Disneyland Park.
My grandparents house was just a few blocks from Walt Disney Studios and I remember seeing this building be built. As kids we always looked out the window as we drove by and checked how the dwarfs were holding up.
I’ve also had the privilege of coming to Walt Disney Studio lot in Burbank on a couple occasions. Note the studios are not open to the public, but sometimes D23 Gold members can purchase a limited capacity tour of the grounds and buildings.
Disney Legends Ceremony
The Disney Legends Ceremony takes place during D23 Expo. And let me tell you, it is my favorite part of the entire weekend. After attending the expo for the first time in 2017, the Legends Ceremony was my first “panel” of the event. It has now become a D23 Expo tradition for me.
Being there in person with so many amazing and talented people, watching them receive such a prestigious award and celebrating with a group of 6,000 or more fans is beyond exhilarating. I describe it as similar to the Academy Awards, but regular people are in the audience and we’re not dressed up in fancy gowns.
It feels super elite and special to be in attendance and is one of the most popular events of D23 Expo. This incredible ceremony began taking place at the expo in 2009, which happens biannually.
If you’re going to D23 Expo, and you should—you must make time to attend the unforgettable Legends Ceremony.
D23 Expo tickets typically go on sale a year before the event, and it pays off in the end if you’re also a D23 Gold Member at the time of both the ticket sales and the expo itself.
Be sure to get familiar with the D23 Expo schedule before you show up on the day of the Disney Legends ceremony. Even with reservations, it’s been worth it to me to arrive early (I’m talking before 5 am) to attend. The wait is worth it to get a guaranteed spot and the memories and friends you make while waiting is part of the experience you just can’t duplicate.
Who Is a Disney Legend?
I get super excited as it gets closer to announcing another round of Disney Legend inductees. At the 2019 awards ceremony, I remember listening to recipients who knew Walt Disney personally and couldn’t help but think our time was running out to hear those first-hand experiences.
I like to think Walt Disney knew a little of what we would someday feel when he said, “I love the nostalgic myself. I hope we never lose some the things of the past.”
While we continue to celebrate the achievements of today, we certainly revere and remember the man whose name is– The Walt Disney Company.
Disney Legends 2022
I got to be part of the media covering D23 Expo in 2022 and had the privilege of viewing the ceremony in person, along with everyone watching the first ever live stream of this ceremony.
- Anthony Anderson
- Kristen Bell: always funny, beautiful and charismatic in her acceptance
- Chadwick Boseman: lovely tribute from his brother on his behalf, you could truly feel his presence there
- Rob’t Coltrin
- Patrick Dempsey: I think most people were just shocked by his white hair
- Robert Price “Bob” Foster
- Josh Gad: one of my favorites for such a long time, recalled being rejected in a Jungle Cruise Skipper interview at 18 when he applied at Walt Disney World
- Jonathan Groff: fantastic speech of love, beauty and acceptance, what a talent!
- Don Hahn
- Doris Hardoon
- Idina Menzel: she sang for us and wow, what a voice!
- Chris Montan
- Ellen Pompeo
- Tracee Ellis Ross: her speech was truly inspiring, I love her outlook on dreaming big and doing big things as the complete, whole person you are
Disney Legends 2019
- Christina Aguilera who also opened the event with a beautiful live performance
- Wing T. Chao
- Robert Downey Jr. who shared about his experience getting kicked out of Disneyland as a teen
- Jon Favreau
- James Earl Jones
- Bette Midler who couldn’t make it last minute and her look-alike, sound-alike daughter read her speech
- Kenny Ortega of High School Musical, Teen Beach Movie and many, many other popular movies I bet you didn’t know he was behind!
- Barnette Ricci
- Robin Roberts
- Diane Sawyer
- Ming-Na Wen
- Hans Zimmer
Disney Legends 2017
My First 23 Expo and first Legends experience. I was completely captivated by Bob Iger as MC. He was professional but also personable while addressing such a huge audience.
- Carrie Fisher our beloved Princess Leia passed not even a year before, this was a very tender moment in the ceremony
- Clyde Geronimi
- Whoopi Goldberg
- Manuel Gonzales
- Mark Hamill his tribute to Carrie Fisher was both touching and genuine
- Wayne Jackson
- Jack Kirby
- Stan Lee the crowd went nuts for Stan Lee, especially tender because his wife passed away just the month before
- Garry Marshall
- Julie Taymor
- Oprah Winfrey this was probably a highlight of my life as a long time Oprah fan, being in the same room as her was the closest I’ve ever been
Disney Legends 1987-2015
D23, the official Disney Fan Club keeps an updated list of every person to receive this honor. Before 2017, I have copied their list below.
Here are some of the most notable names you might recognize from years past:
- 1989 Ub Iwerks
- 1990 Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman.
- 1991 Julie Andrews, Mary Blair
- 1994 Frank Wells
- 1998 Dick Van Dyke
- 1999 Tim Allen
- 2001 Alan Menken, Marty Sklar
- 2002 Sir Tim Rice
- 2004 Rolly Crump, Bob Gurr
- 2005 Steve Martin
- 2006 Peter Jennings, Elton John
- 2008 Barbara Walters.
- 2009 Leota Toombs Thomas, Betty White, Robin Williams.
- 2011 JJim Henson, Paige O’Hara, Regis Philbin
- 2013 Tony Baxter, Dick Clark, Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Jobs
- 2015 George Lucas, Susan Lucci, Johnny Depp
The names above are certainly a very small list, just to give you an idea. As the highest honor from The Walt Disney Company, who do you think deserves recognition for their talent and achievements during the next Disney Legends ceremony?