Many people throughout the years have been referred to as “Disney Legends,” usually based on their close proximity to the company or for working on multiple projects with them. But starting in the late 1980s, becoming a Disney Legend was something that would actually happen – you’d get a statue and a golden, lifetime ticket to all of the Disney Parks and your handprints would soon be immortalized in Legends Plaza, an area on the Disney Lot in Burbank (formerly the reflection pool for the masterful Team Disney Burbank building designed by postmodern architect Michael Graves). In recent years, a lavish ceremony has been added to the D23 Expo, the all-Disney version of Comic-Con, that happens every two years in Anaheim.
While this year’s inductees have yet to be announced, we have some ideas about who should be honored this year:
Robert A.M. Stern
Like Graves, Stern is one of the country’s leading postmodern architects and his contributions to Disney are vast – he designed the casting office in Orlando, several resorts (including the Yacht & Beach Club and Boardwalk) and gave whimsical shape to the Disney Animation building in Burbank. He also created the masterplan for Celebration, Florida, the town that Disney used to own. Plus, unlike Graves (who passed away in 2015), Stern is still alive. While the company currently has what can charitably be described as an indifference to architectural aesthetics, it would be nice to acknowledge how profoundly Stern has shaped the modern look of Disney.
Time to bury the hatchet, people! When Michael Eisner, Disney’s former chairman and CEO, who took Disney from a small family company to a global media juggernaut, appeared recently on a prime-time television special honoring the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, it seemed like perhaps the animosity had soften between current and former management. Among the foundations of Eisner’s legacy: the Disneyland Paris resort, Pleasure Island and Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), a pair of Walt Disney World water parks, Hollywood Pictures, the renaissance in Disney Animation, the purchase of ABC, founding the relationship with Pixar, the Celebration experiment and much, much more. While Eisner ended his tenure amidst upheaval and some creative stagnation, it cannot be taken away what a seismic shift the company went through under his watch and how many of his initiatives and passion projects continue to dazzle guests and viewers around the world. Eisner was the last time a true creative led the company, something that has very much been felt in the years since. Let’s make this happen!
Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, showrunner and creator Susan Harris made an interconnected world on prime-time with “The Golden Girls,” “Empty Nest” (which ran for nearly as long as “The Golden Girls”) and “Nurses.” The fact that a “Golden Girls”-themed immersive experience just opened in Los Angeles is a testament to the power and longevity of Harris’ creations, not to mention how often the show is rerun on basic cable. (You could drive past the actual “Golden Girls” house, from season 4 on, as part of the Studio Backlot Tour at what was then known as Disney-MGM Studios in Florida.) The fact that Harris, who also created “Benson” and “Soap,” hasn’t been awarded this yet is insane.
Yes, Miranda is only 42. But he certainly fills the requirements to already be considered a Disney Legend: he did the songs for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana” and “Encanto;” he wrote music for two of the “Star Wars” sequels (and had a brief appearance in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”); he co-starred in “Mary Poppins Returns;” he provided a voice for the recent reboot of “DuckTales;” the live version of “Hamilton” streams exclusively on Disney+. And, oh yeah, he’s contributed new songs to the “Little Mermaid” live-action adaptation due out next summer. And something tells me that this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his relationship with Disney. Just give him the award already.
There are a number of composers who are now Disney Legends and they should certainly add Michael Giacchino to the list. This is a man who has composed for virtually every arm of the Walt Disney Company – Pixar (his Oscar-winning work on “Up,” plus several features and shorts, including this year’s “Lightyear”), Walt Disney Animation Studios (“Zootopia,” “Prep & Landing”), Marvel Studios (“Doctor Strange,” the Tom Holland-led “Spider-Man” films, among others), Lucasfilm (“Rogue One”), Disney live-action (“Tomorrowland”) and several theme park attractions for various Disney Parks around the world (including the Ratatouille attraction, arranging the new Star Tours music and the music for Space Mountain). And what’s more, he’s directing and scoring a new Marvel Studios Halloween special, “Werewolf by Night,” which is set to air on Disney+ later this year. We love the synergy, don’t we folks?
This one could go either way. Joe Rohde is one of the most legendary Imagineers to ever work in that division of the company; he worked on things like “Captain EO” and Maelstrom, the attraction that used to be in the Norway pavilion at EPCOT. He then went on to become one of the most singular and distinctive voices in that division of the company – Animal Kingdom is virtually his park (including the incredible “Avatar”-themed area), in the same way that Disneyland Paris is Tony Baxter’s. And he would continue to hold great influence over projects like Aulani in Hawaii and the Disney Cruise Line’s new private island. But he left during a series of mid-pandemic layoffs and now works for Virgin Galactic while still consulting on some things for Disney. The wounds might still be too fresh but it’s not too early to make him a Disney Legend.
Samuel L. Jackson
This is another one that seems like a no-brainer. Jackson voices one of the most iconic characters in both “Incredibles” and “Incredibles 2,” starred in one of the greatest Touchstone movies ever (“Unbreakable”) and has a huge role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having put the Avengers together and co-starred in more installments than we can count. The fact that Jackson has even more on the way, including a Disney+ limited series coming next year called “Secret Invasion” and sequels to “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Captain Marvel,” puts him in pole position to get his Disney Legend statue sooner rather than later (and the ceremony always loves a little star power razzle-dazzle). Also, while Jackson’s contributions to the “Star Wars” galaxy happened before Disney purchased Lucasfilm, it’s never too late for a Mace Windu spin-off.