The D23 Expo began on Friday morning with the Disney Legends ceremony. This ceremony, a traditional start to the expo, featured twelve new inductees to the 2019 Disney Legends class. The ceremony was hosted by Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger.

Bob Iger welcomed people to the ceremony and expo. As he welcomed fans to the event he noted, “A lot has changed in the two years since we held this event, but no matter how big we get, no matter how many years pass, no matter how much our company and the world change, we have never lost sight of one thing: It all started with a mouse.”

After his welcome, he invited one of the inductees to the stage for a surprise performance. Christina Aguilera came to the stage to sing Reflection, from Mulan. This is a song that helped jump-start her career when it originally came out. Once the performance was over, Iger helped Aguilera find her way off stage as she admitted she hadn’t been briefed for how to exit. With that, the ceremony began. It is worth taking note that since the Disney Legends program began in 1987, fewer than 300 people have been invited to be a Disney Legend.

The first Disney Legend of the day was Robert Downey Jr. During his speech, most of which was humorous, he shared about getting arrested by the Disney police on his first visit to Disney. He then pivoted to a touching statement saying “Playing Tony over these many years and the thematic idea that technology can guide our species toward enlightenment or destruction has been really worthwhile, and it’s an ongoing meditation. It’s been a great gift.” Downey wrapped up his speech thanking the fans in attendance saying, “I get to remain a fan of the first inclusive and evolving cinematic universe ever, so far, and here’s to the future.”

Diane Sawyer of ABC News was the next inductee. She reminisced about seeing Cinderella for the first time and the magic coming to life. The magic of Disney opened her eyes and imagination to a world that had so much more beyond the scope of where she grew up.

Jon Favreau followed and shared about making magic. Favreau showed his deep knowledge and love for both Disney and the storytelling behind Walt Disney. “Walt Disney was the master of bringing the old myths and the 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,” he shared. Favreau then took notice of the award statue and what it represented: ideas and inspiration, the craft, and, of course, magic. “I also love it because it’s from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia,” he said, citing a personal favorite. “As I’m on my path now from mouse to wizard, I thank Disney and all of you for the opportunity to tell these stories, to explore technology, and to help bring magic to the next generation.”

Hans Zimmer was the next person to be recognized as a Disney Legend. He, unfortunately, was unable to be at the event. Instead, he sent in a video. In it, Zimmer said, “It’s a great privilege to be selected by people I admire and trust and to be recognized alongside my extraordinary peers. Disney has been a home to me for the past 30 years. It’s a place that has supported all my outlandish and crazy ideas, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to help bring the magic of Disney stories to life.”

Robin Roberts, of Good Morning America, was the next person to be honored. Roberts shared about her first trip to Walt Disney World and how the magic completely blew her away. One of her takeaways from this trip was that “every night was a reason for celebration.” Now Roberts is able to return with her whole family to a Disney Park. “It is wonderful to experience their first time at Disney and to see the magic,” Roberts said. “It is truly a blessing to be a part of a company where all we want to do is touch people’s hearts—that’s all we want to do.”

If you’ve seen Fantasmic! or the Main Street Electrical Parade, then you know the work of the next inductee. Barnette Ricci was a director and choreographer first at Disneyland and then beyond. She worked at the parks, events, and so many other places creating the magic. “Being able to create shows for a living that bring happiness and joy to people, that is like the dream job of all dream jobs, and I was able to do that for so many years,” Ricci shared.

Christina Aguilera, perhaps the biggest Disney geek of the group, was the next person honored. She shared about taking her kids to Tokyo Disneyland as youngsters because that was the first Disney Park that she had gone to. She shared about how the Mickey Mouse Club had really been an incredible thing for her and let her be herself with others like her. After going to a sports-driven school, it really let her be herself. She shared how Reflection from Mulan and her first album came together at the same time and were celebrating anniversaries. Overall, she shared her love of Disney and was clearly moved by this honor.

Ming-Na Wen has done it all. She has voiced a Disney princess, played a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and is now a part of the Star Wars universe in The Mandalorian. Wen shared how she was thankful to Disney for letting her do everything on her “geek girl” bucket list. She also thanked her mother for showing her what it was to be a strong woman, which has helped with many of her characters. “If Disney doesn’t personify all our dreams and all our hopes and our heart and our love for fantasy and believing in the hero in all of us, then there’s no magic,” Wen concluded.

James Earl Jones also was unable to be present to receive the Disney Legend honor. In a video, he thanked Disney and the fans. He concluded saying, “I’ve had the great honor to work with Disney several times over the years, and it is a great honor to be included in the Disney Legends hall of fame. Thank you—and may the force be with you.”

Wing T. Chao came up to be honored next with a Jackie Chan paddle that he portrayed himself as in a quick joke. This legendary Imagineer expressed thanks to all those at Disney he had worked with. “I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work for the greatest entertainment company in the world, a company that truly believes in teamwork and producing high-quality products. I certainly had the pleasure and the privilege of working with some of the most amazing creative people at Disney,” Chao said. He also thanked his parents for inspiring him saying, “There’s an old Chinese saying, ‘Gratitude for your parents should be as high as the mountains and as deep as the ocean,’ and I am truly grateful for my parents’ caring and teachings which have shaped me.” 

The man behind High School Musical was the next inductee. Kenny Ortega came to the stage and was clearly moved by the honor. He connected where he was today with watching the Mickey Mouse Club as a kid. He wanted to be in that club. “I realized that I had to use my imagination and my imagination would get me into that club,” Ortega said, concluding, “Today is just extraordinary. I’m officially in the club.” Ortega will also be taking his mother to Disneyland for the first time tomorrow shared, “The Walt Disney Company has allowed me to work in a place of my dreams. When I was a boy I imagined a dream, and now I’m living that dream. I’m dancing in that dream.”

The final inductee was Bette Midler, who unfortunately was unable to attend because of a storm stopping her from traveling. Instead, her daughter Sophie Von Haselberg, read her speech and accepted the award on her behalf. “I spent 10 of the happiest years of my life on Dopey Drive, both as an actor and as a producer. The pictures I was privileged to make brought so much joy into the world. We made people laugh and we made people cry, sometimes at the same time. There is nothing more satisfying and there’s nothing more necessary, especially these days,” Von Haselberg read. Her speech concluded by saying that Midler had never considered herself an artist. But with this honor bestowed upon her by The Walt Disney Company and now joining the fellow Disney Legends, Midler wrote, “I feel like I’ve finally earned the right to call myself an artist.”

The Disney Legends ceremony is always full of heart, magic, and a connection with the Disney legacy and history. The people honored have contributed to the legacy and success of The Walt Disney Company. It is always a wonderful way to start the D23 Expo. So many honorees thanked Bob Iger for his note or something specific he had done through the years. What was shown was a company that, although massive now, still has a lot of heart. This could be seen both in the people who received the Disney Legend award and also by the people giving it. The Disney Legends ceremony is a wonderful tradition.