Robert Downey Jr, Jon Favreau join elite group as 2019 Disney Legends Award honorees

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Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau joined an elite group as Disney honored the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stars with its Disney Legends Award at the 2019 D23 Expo.

The ceremony took place on the first day of the three-day convention. Billed as “The Ultimate Disney Fan Event,” the entertainment extravaganza unfolded at the Anaheim Convention Center from Aug. 23 – Aug. 25.

Past Disney Legends honorees include Julie Andrews, Annette Funicello, Fess Parker, Jack Hannah, Angela Lansbury, and more.

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Other 2019 Disney Legends Award class members include actress Ming-Na Wen, singer Bette Midler, designer Wing Chao, composer Hans Zimmer, producer, choreographer and director Kenny Ortega, actor James Earl Jones, Parks Director and choreographer Barnette Ricci, and iconic journalists Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer.

Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company Bob Iger explained the significance and exclusivity of the award at the event.

“Of the hundreds of thousands of talented people that have contributed to the Walt Disney Company over the last century, fewer than 300 have become Disney Legends,” Iger said. “The award is a celebration of talent, a recognition of achievement, and great contributions to our company. But above all, it is a sincere expression of our gratitude.”

Fans screamed and applauded as Iger announced Downey as 2019’s first Disney Legends Award recipient.

Launching a Universe

Disney’s prestigious accolade puts the “Iron Man” lead actor and the film’s director/actor in prestigious company.

Together, Downey and Favreau brought the complex Tony Stark/Iron Man character brilliantly to life. Marvel fans fell fast and hard. It’s probably safe to say, though, that neither one of them could have predicted the wild global response the first “Iron Man” film would bring.

The first movie went on to spawn an entire cinematic universe that generated billions of worldwide box office grosses across more than a decade. The Numbers reports a total worldwide box office gross of all MCU movies from “Iron Man” through “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (the last Sony-Disney co-collaboration) to over $22 billion.

In his introduction, Iger underscored Downey’s pioneering contribution to the MCU franchise.

“As Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. delivered more than an iconic performance; he launched the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’re very proud to officially recognize him as a Disney Legend,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

Stark Appreciation

Downey, in turn, expressed gratitude in playing the beloved superhero through the years. He talked about how Tony and the MCU offer an ongoing reflection of how technology can impact the world, for better or worse.

“Playing Tony over these many years and that thematic idea that technology can guide our species toward enlightenment or destruction has been really worthwhile,” he said. “It’s an ongoing mediation. It’s been a great gift. So, I want to thank the fans who made this all possible, starting back in 2008.”

Avid fans are still mourning Tony Stark’s heroic demise in “Avengers: Endgame.” Stark’s ultimate sacrifice prompted Iron Man’s exit from the MCU.

In his speech, Downey noted that he gets to remain an MCU fan and added, “Here’s to the future!”

From Mouse to Magician

MCU fans might not realize the broad scope of “Iron Man” director-producer-actor Jon Favreau’s work for Disney. Iger compared Favreau to the legendary Walt Disney in his introduction.

“Among the many things I’ve learned from studying Walt over the years, is the power of technology in the hands of a great storyteller,” the executive said. “Walt was a master at using it. So is Jon. As evidenced by his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as you just saw. In the “Jungle Book,” in the stunning live-action version of “The Lion King,” and the upcoming series, “The Mandalorian,” on Disney Plus.”

Favreau waxed nostalgic in his acceptance speech. Instead of talking about himself, the Happy Hogan actor spoke about Walt Disney. He said that the iconic animator was “the master of bringing the old myths and the magic of technology together to create indelible memories.”

He also drew attention to the parts of the Disney Legends Award statue. “The scroll at the bottom represents ideas and inspiration. The hand represents the craft. Of course, the star is the magic that comes from that.”

These elements hail from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The story is part of Disney’s 1940 animated film, “Fantasia.” Walt Disney based the movie on Goethe’s poem from the 1700s. Favreau dubbed the film as one of his favorites.

He wrapped his speech saying, “As I’m on my path from mouse to wizard, I thank Disney and all of you for the opportunity to tell these stories, to explore technology, and help bring magic to the next generation.”

Looking Ahead at the MCU

Overall, the future of the cinematic world that 2019 Disney Legends Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau birthed seems bright.

Though fans are distressed about reports of Spider-Man’s exit from the MCU, Disney has a slate of future MCU films planned.

For instance, the studio reportedly revealed “Black Widow” footage at D23 2019. The film is due for theatrical release in 2020. “The Eternals” is due out the same year. Meanwhile, “Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings,” is slated for a 2021 release. Plus, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” are expected to follow.

These films are part of MCU’s Phase 4 projects. Phase 5 will likely include the highly anticipated “Black Panther” sequel, the “Blade” reboot, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” and more.