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'Cooler than a Grammy': Disney kicks off D23 Expo by honouring 'Legends'

D23 EXPO 2019 - The Ultimate Disney Fan Event - brings together all the worlds of Disney under one roof for three packed days of presentations, pavilions, experiences, concerts, sneak peeks, shopping, and more. (The Walt Disney Company/Image Group LA)

Disney CEO Bob Iger kicked off the company’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, California by thanking the fans of the company and stressing the “exhilarating” pace at which new content will be released.

“It inspires to be more innovative and to raise the bar even higher on the quality and the variety of what we do,” Iger said and the Disney Legends presentation. “I can honestly say there has never been a better time to be the Walt Disney Company or to be a Disney Fan.”

The entertainment giant is also highlighting the new acquisition of 21st Century Fox content, which will include all 661 episodes of the The Simpsons being available on the Disney+ platform, which will be released in Canada later this year.

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Disney Legends

Iger presented the Legends Awards to 12 individuals to start the Expo. Here are the new award recipients:

Robert Downey Jr. was recognized for his performance as Tony Stark (or Iron Man) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2008. Downey Jr. joked about the first time he went to Disneyland and was “transported to another place,” referring to when he was arrested at the park in his youth. He went on to say that it has been a “gift” to place Tony Stark for so many years.

“Playing Tony over these many years and that thematic idea that technology can guide our species toward enlightenment of destruction, it’s been a really worthwhile...gift,” the actor said in his acceptance speech. “I get to remain a fan of the most inclusive and evolving cinematic universe ever.”

“Visionary” Jon Favreau has been at the helm of dozens of Disney films, including Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and the reimagined Jungle Book and The Lion King.

“Walt Disney was the master of bringing the old myths and magic of technology together to create indelible memories and create a culture that we all grew up in that passed a set of values from one generation to the next,” Favreau said.

Bette Midler is one of the most iconic stars of this lifetime. Her role in Hocus Pocus has a soft spot in so many peoples hearts, among her other countless roles. Midler’s daughter was in attendance to accept the award on her behalf, Sophie Von Haselberg got emotional reading the speech from her mother about the artists of the past that influenced Middler personally.

“In all my performing life...I’ve never called myself an artist,” the speech delivered by Von Haselberg said. “But enjoying this class of artists today, after all these years, I fell that I have finally earned the right to call myself an artist.”

You may love Christina Aguilera from her “Genie in a Bottle” days, but her history with Disney is extensive. She started as a Mouseketeer with other famous names like Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling, and received great success with the song “Reflection” from the movie Mulan. In Aguilera’s mind, receiving the Legends award is “cooler than a Grammy.”

“Disney is what inspired me to sing,” the star said. “When I first saw the Sound of Music and Julie Andrews in those hills and singing so freely and so beautifully it was my escape as a child who grew up in a kind of a chaotic household.”

Hans Zimmer has over 160 film scores under his belt, starting with White Fang and Cool Runnings. Zimmer’s music is probably most recognized in The Lion King and three of the Pirate of the Caribbean films.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 12: Presenters Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones speak onstage during the 70th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

James Earl Jones might has one of the most recognizable voices on the planet, from the voice of Mufasa, in both the original animated and this year’s reimagined version of The Lion King, and his role as one of the most legendary villains in film - Darth Vader.

Ming-Na Wen was recognized for “breaking the mold” with her performances, beginning as Mulan and moving into the Star Wars universe in the upcoming series.

“I used to pray to God, Buddha and the force when I was a little girl,” she said.

“When people ask me how I get the inspiration for all these strong female role models, it’s my mom...She is a woman warrior, through and through.”

Music and dance is Kenny Ortega’s game, and his work as a choreographer and director spans decades, from the film Newsies to Hocus Pocus and the hit High School Musical films. He’s been a Disney fan since childhood, telling the audience about a time when he dismantled his family’s television set to try to go inside the TV to be in the Mickey Mouse Club.

Diane Sawyer was also named a “Legend” for her ability to tackle some of the biggest news stories and thought provoking interviews with ABC News - while she also mentioned possibly stealing all the soap at the hotel last night and breaking a chocolate Chewbacca, frantically trying to put it back together.

Fellow journalist Robin Roberts was honoured for her work as a reporter, and also her determination through her battle with cancer. Roberts reminisced about a time when her late parents met Iger when she was just a young journalist, sharing that her family said he was “going places.”

18 year old Barnette Ricci (C) member of California choral group performing. (Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Barnette Ricci is a name you might not immediately recognize, but Ricci has been part of the Walt Disney Company since the 1960s, beginning her career as a dancer, and transitioning to a choreographer and director. She was also a driving force in the Fantasmic! show at Disney parks. Ricci instantly got emotional about being formally recognized as a “Legend.”

“Being able to create shows for a living and bring happiness...to people, that’s the dream job of dream jobs,” Ricci said. “To be accepting this award is just - Fantasmic.”

Wing T. Chao from Disney Imagineering played a key role in several parks and the cruise experiences, beginning in the Asia-Pacific market. His attention to detail has been deemed the reason these spaces are so special. He has a sense of humour too - holding up a sign with Jackie Chan’s face at the ceremony and saying he’s waiting for Iger to create a kung-fu architect movie for him to star in.