There is no greater honor within the Walt Disney Company than being named a Disney Legend. The award, established in 1987 and voted on by a small selection committee, recognizes those who have made an “extraordinary and integral contribution to The Walt Disney Company.” The honorees are given a small bronze statue, featuring Mickey’s gloved hand holding a wand (the spiral stands for imagination, the hand holds the gifts of skill, discipline and craftsmanship and the wand and star represents magic) and their handprints and signature go in a courtyard outside of the Team Disney building in Burbank (we’ve seen them!)
Over the years everybody from Kurt Russell (who got his start in the business starring in a string of Disney live action films and lent his voice to Fox and the Hound) to songwriting legends Robert and Richard Sherman to Imagineers like Rolly Crump and Bob Gurr (and people in every imaginable part of the company, from animation to merchandising). And this year’s recently announced class of 2015 honorees (to be awarded at the D23 Expo next month) certainly is deserving of the distinction; they’re positively legendary.
This year’s Legends (in alphabetical order):
George Bodenheimer, the former Executive Chairman of ESPN. Amazingly, he started at the company 33 years ago, working first in the mailroom back in 1981. In 1998 he was named the company’s president (only its fifth in its entire history) and remained in that position until 2012, when he stepped down from day-to-day operations. (He held the Executive Chairman position until May 2014.) Sports!
Andreas Deja, a longtime animator for Walt Disney Animation who brought to life countless classic characters (he came to the studio in 1980 and worked on The Black Cauldron, sharing a cubicle with Tim Burton). While he is mostly known for his work creating scary villains like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Scar from The Lion King, and Jafar from Aladdin, he’s also animated his fair share of cuddly characters too, like Lilo from Lilo & Stitch, Hercules from Hercules and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. (He was also the resident specialist for the animation of Mickey Mouse for a while, having animated Mickey for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “The Prince and the Pauper,” “Runaway Brain,” the Mickey segments in Fantasia 2000 and consulted on the character for the Epic Mickey video games.) Deja has a lot of character.
Eyvind Earle, who sadly passed away in 2000, was one of the most influential designers to ever work for Disney Animation. He was hired by the Studio in 1951 as an assistant background painter and contributed to a number of features (like Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp) and short films (like the educational “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom”). But he’s most remembered for his singular design work for Sleeping Beauty. Earle provided the art direction for the movie and its bold stylization is largely attributed to him. It’s why that movie looks so stunning and is considered a classic to this day.
Danny Elfman, is one of the greatest composers of all time. In the Disney community he’s probably best known for writing the music and songs for The Nightmare Before Christmas, working alongside his longtime collaborator Tim Burton. He would also score Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Frankenweenie for Disney. Most recently Elfman scored portions of Avengers: Age of Ultron and his past work for the company includes Flubber, Oz the Great and Powerful and Dick Tracy. (For Disney subsidiaries he scored Dead Presidents, Good Will Hunting and A Civil Action, amongst others.) And Elfman hasn’t simply provided scores for Disney films; he also contributed the theme music for the long-running ABC series Desperate Housewives and the score for the Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction at Disneyland and Mystic Manor attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland. Elfman’s darkly melodic music is truly legendary. For an entire generation, Danny Elfman is the sound of Disney.
George Lucas, creator of Star Wars. Long before Lucas sold his company to Disney, he was in business with them. It first started in 1986, when the revolutionary 3D attraction Captain EO premiered at Disneyland and EPCOT Center. That film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and featuring Michael Jackson in the titular role, became a staple of Disney theme parks around the world (and can currently be seen, once again, at Epcot) and began a long and fruitful partnership. This partnership included the insanely popular motion simulator attraction Star Tours (which debuted the year after Captain EO), Indiana Jones Adventure attraction at Disneyland, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Indiana Jones-themed attractions at Disney Parks in Paris and Tokyo and a revised version of Star Tours, entitled Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Lucas also collaborated with Disney on the cult classic attraction ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter that entertained and terrified guests in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom for almost a decade starting in 1995.
Susan Lucci, who starred on ABC’s beloved daytime soap opera All My Children for 41 years. She’s been nominated for 21 daytime Emmy Awards (and got a standing ovation when she won, for her 19th nomination). She’s also starred on ABC series Dancing with the Stars and Hope & Faith, as well as Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven. She can currently be seen on the hit Lifetime series Devious Maids, produced by ABC Studios. She is, clearly, an unstoppable force of nature.
Julie Reihm Casaletto, who became Disneyland’s first Ambassador in 1965. The story goes that Walt Disney, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the park, needed somebody to act as a representative to audiences around the world, as well as host VIP guests and foreign dignitaries. Casaletto was a tour guide at the time and selected by Walt to be the first Disney Ambassador. Walt needed somebody to go in his place; he chose Julie because she was “a personification of Disneyland’s world-famous spirit of friendliness and happiness.”
Carson Van Osten, who has been responsible for bringing Disney characters to life across a number of media platforms. Van Osten has, amongst other things, overseen creative content for motion picture tie-in advertising, worked on Disney publications, and established one of the first licensing style guides for Disney Consumer Products. A talented artist and stylist, he also designed logos for Mickey Mouse’s 50th and 60th birthdays, the Walt Disney Studios logo and water tower design, and the Disney Hotel clock tower logo in Paris. He’s probably designing something right now.