For several websites over the years, I’ve written about my love of Disney. Sometimes it’s been the main focus of an article, and other times it’s been part of a larger look at pop culture. This article will have its’ primary focus on Disney…To be specific, the concept of Disney Legends.
Of all the studios in Hollywood, Disney is the only one that has a program like this. Disney Legends are a group of men and women who have made the company the success it is. Ranging from animators and acting talents to musicians and theme park cast members to directors and executives, new Disney Legends are named every few years, with recent additions taking place at the D23 conventions.
In this article, I would like to share my ideas for 10 people, 5 men and 5 women, who, based on their work with Disney as well as the talents previously admitted to this group, should be named as Disney Legends in the future. The list is mostly in alphabetical order, with the exception of two duos whose collaborations were very successful.
1.) Keith David
To start off, I think that Keith David deserves to be named a Disney Legend for the voice-work he’s done for the company. It all started with “Gargoyles”, easily the most serious cartoon on the Disney Afternoon line-up. David’s commanding voice helped make Goliath one of the most impactful characters on 90s cartoons. Many people will point to the wide variety of “Star Trek” alumni who provided voice-work for the show as part of its’ success, but it all comes back to Goliath, the leader of the Gargoyles.
While Goliath was a good creature, David’s other famous Disney role wasn’t, and that was his role as Dr. Facilier in “The Princess And The Frog”. An early attempt to subvert the tropes of Disney’s past, it wasn’t a huge success, but it did decently enough to land Anika Noni Rose a Disney Legend nod a few years after its’ release. A Disney story needs a villain, though, and Dr. Facilier was a major one, with his villain song “Friends On The Other Side” being one of the most acclaimed of those pieces.
David provided both the speaking and singing vocals for Facilier, and combined with his work as Goliath, I think he should be named a Disney Legend soon.
2.) George Lucas.
When Disney has purchased companies in the past few decades, they’ve named important figures in those companies as Disney Legends. For example, Disney purchased ABC in 1995. 12 years after that purchase, and 5 years after his death, Roone Arledge, the man behind the success of ABC News programs like “20/20” and “Nightline” and ABC sports programs like “Monday Night Football” and “Wide World Of Sports”, was named a Disney Legend.
Using Arledge as a predecessor, I think that George Lucas should be named a Disney Legend soon. In 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilm, a purchase whose news was not as big as it might have been because of Superstorm Sandy smashing the East Coast. George Lucas had already helped to contribute several rides and attractions to Disney Parks, including “Star Tours”, “Indiana Jones”-themed attractions at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and “Captain EO”. With the release of the 7th “Star Wars” movie on the horizon, I think that 2015 could see George Lucas named as a Disney Legend. If not next year, then hopefully within the next few years. For all the Hell he’s caught from movie fans, including myself, he has done some amazing work.
3 and 4.) Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell.
Sometimes one role is all you need to become a Disney Legend. Performers like Anika Noni Rose (the voice of Tiana in “The Princess And The Frog”) and Billy Crystal (the voice of Mike Wazowski in “Monsters Inc.” and “Monsters University”) have been named Disney Legends because even though they’ve only done one role for Disney, that role made an impression, and so it is with Idina Menzel (who actually did 2 roles for Disney, but “Enchanted” wasn’t as big a deal as this one) and Kristen Bell.
You know what I mean by “this one”. That’s right, the juggernaut known as “Frozen”. “Frozen” was something of a revolution for Disney’s animated movies. Works like the aforementioned “Enchanted” and “The Princess And The Frog” tried to make the points that “Frozen” did in subverting the tropes of Disney’s previous animated features, but where they failed was by blatantly whacking viewers over the head with the opinion that the first 7 decades of Disney’s animated movies weren’t something to be looked at positively. “Frozen” makes a lot of the same points they did, but does so in a more subtle manner.
To get to the meat of this section, Menzel (the voice of Queen Elsa) and Bell (the voice of Princess Anna) both did amazing work in “Frozen”. Menzel’s vocals, full of fear in both renditions of “The First Time In Forever” and freedom in the Oscar-winning “Let It Go”…Bell’s vocals, full of hope in both renditions of “The First Time In Forever” and hope, albeit of a naive kind in “Love Is An Open Door”…Both of them helped make Elsa and Anna the Princesses of the future, and I think that they should be named as Disney Legends next year. After all, it only took 2 years for Rose to be a Disney Legend after one movie.
5.) Bette Midler
After the critical and box office failure of 2009’s “Old Dogs” led to its’ end as an active production company, it’s hard to recall a time when Touchstone Pictures was not only Disney’s adult label, but an active and successful production company. The philosophy in the 80s was to get stars who were either starting out or having career difficulties to star in their movies. One of those stars was Bette Midler.
The critical and box office success of 1986’s “Down And Out In Beverly Hills” led to the resurrection of Bette Midler’s film career, which had been inactive for several years after the failure of the 1982 United Artists comedy “Jinxed”. Over the course of the late 80s and early 90s, Midler would star in some of the most well-known and popular Touchstone films ever made, titles like “Ruthless People”, “Outrageous Fortune”, “Big Business”, “Beaches” and “Stella”. She would also make her mark at Walt Disney Pictures with two movies five years apart, 1988’s “Oliver And Company” and 1993’s “Hocus Pocus”.
Disney tends to disregard most of their Touchstone titles nowadays, having sent the bulk of them off to strip-and-dump home entertainment outfits like Mill Creek, but I feel they’re ignoring a vital part of their history, and if they were to name Bette Midler as a Disney Legend, it could be a way to acknowledge an important part of their history.
6.) Mandy Moore
As mentioned, Anika Noni Rose did one role for Disney so far and was named a Disney Legend. I think that Mandy Moore deserves to be named as a Disney Legend as well. “Tangled” was more of a financial and critical success than “The Princess And The Frog” was, and Moore’s voice-work was an essential part of it.
Her work as Rapunzel captured all the mixed emotions the character had, whether it was mixed feelings about her adopted mother in “The Healing Incantation”, the exhiliration of finally getting out of the tower in the reprise of “When Will My Life Begin?” or the feeling of finally knowing genuine love in “I See The Light”.
Moore has continued to work for Disney, not only supplying the voice of Rapunzel in the recent “Sofia The First” special “The Curse Of Princess Ivy”, but also providing the voice of the title character on “Sheriff Callie’s Wild West”. I’ll admit that I’ll sometimes watch it when nothing else is on, and Moore continues to do great work as an honorable character.
Of course, as a co-owner of two cats, I tend to like entertainments that center around cats. Anyway, with the voice-work she’s done for Disney, I think she deserves to be named a Disney Legend within the next few years.
7.) Kimmy Robertson
One of my celebrity friends on Facebook is Kimmy Robertson, and I feel she should be named a Disney Legend for the fact that she’s been one of their most essential supporting figures. In 1989, she played Gloria Forrester in “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”, a movie that, although it’s not as acknowledged as it used to be, was one of Disney’s biggest live-action successes. That same year, she did uncredited voice-work in “The Little Mermaid”, which would lead to voice-over work throughout the 90s in both Disney films (“Beauty And The Beast”) and TV shows (“The Little Mermaid”, “Pepper Ann”).
When I interviewed Teresa Ganzel earlier this year, I referred to her as one of Pixar’s most reliable auxilary players. That’s what I feel Kimmy was for Disney throughout the 90s, and I think that with her unique voice, there’s still a place for her at Disney today. I could imagine her voicing a patient on “Doc McStuffins” or one of Queen Delightful’s relatives on “The 7D”. Perhaps if Kimmy could be named a Disney Legend, that could give her the chance to work for Disney again.
Something else to note is that Kimmy worked for ABC before they were bought by Disney as Lucy Moran on “Twin Peaks”, which was produced by Spelling Television, and is currently owned by CBS. “Twin Peaks” could be another reason to name Kimmy a Disney Legend, with the precedent for that being Billy Crystal being named a Disney Legend several years ago. When they named Crystal a Disney Legend, they mentioned his work on the ABC sitcom “Soap”, which was actually produced by Columbia Television. Since it aired on ABC, though, they mentioned it when honoring Billy. Perhaps “Twin Peaks” could be mentioned for Kimmy.
8 and 9.) Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
These two might seem a bit unusual to be considered Disney Legends, but hear me out. While the duo had been reviewing films together for a decade before they joined Disney, “Siskel And Ebert”, as their final collaboration was called, was easily one of Disney’s biggest syndication success stories from 1986 to 1999. As shown in the fantastic documentary “Life Itself”, the duo were probably the most influential film critics in America, and for the last 13 years of their collaboration, they were with Disney.
I think that there might be some hesitation in naming the duo as Disney Legends, though, because they reviewed movies from Disney and its’ various divisions in the same way they reviewed movies from other studios, and that meant that there were a lot of split votes and quite a few instances of two thumbs down for Disney titles. Off the top of my head, titles from Disney and its’ related divisions that they gave negative reviews to included the aforementioned “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” and “Hocus Pocus”, as well as Hollywood Pictures’ “Scenes From A Mall”, “Super Mario Brothers” and “The Scarlet Letter”, Touchstone Pictures’ “Cocktail” and “Run”, and from Walt Disney Pictures, “Blank Check”, “Heavyweights” and “Meet The Deedles”. Going back to their days on the Tribune-based “At The Movies”, they often gave mixed to negative reviews of Disney projects, giving two thumbs down to “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”, and as seen in the following video, having a split vote on “The Black Cauldron”.
I still think they should be named Disney Legends. After all, Disney tends to look back at their past and not be pleased by what they see. From the cynicism of “Enchanted” to the fact that they no longer call their film company Walt Disney Pictures, it’s easy to see that Disney has mixed feelings about a lot of their past, and perhaps in that spirit, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert could be named Disney Legends.
10.) Jim Varney
For many who grew up in the 80s and 90s, the late Jim Varney was a favorite pop-culture figure for his work as Ernest P. Worrell. The character of Ernest was so popular that Varney made a string of movies starring the character, many of which were done for Touchstone Pictures. Titles like “Ernest Goes To Camp”, “Ernest Saves Christmas”, “Ernest Goes To Jail” and “Ernest Scared Stupid” may have been looked down on by critics, but they provided a lot of joy to young moviegoers.
Varney also did voice-over work for Disney, voicing Slinky Dog in the first two “Toy Story” movies and voicing Cookie, one of the crew members in 2001’s “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”. Varney unfortunately died before the release of the latter movie.
I think that it would be nice to name Varney as a Disney Legend, although since the bulk of his Disney work was with Touchstone, I think they may not really want to acknowledge him, since they don’t really think highly of Touchstone anymore.
In summation, as 2014 draws to a close and a new year begins, we’ll be seeing new Disney Legends named at the next D23 convention. I hope that if anybody from Disney is reading this, then they’ll take my suggestions under consideration. As a long-time Disney fan, I feel that all the talents that I’ve mentioned deserve to be named as Disney Legends.
Who would you have chosen to be a Disney Legend if you wrote this article? Feedback is encouraged.