7 Unsung Disney Legends that Should Be in the Hall of Fame

You may or may not know that Disney has a Hall of Fame of sorts. It’s called the Disney Legends. And it is apparently total anarchy, run by a secret sub-committee of godless heathens intent on slighting every last one of my childhood heroes with their cruel and random acts of Legend Bestowing.

Okay, not really. I have examined the list and I cannot argue with any of them (except for the ones I have never heard of). Most of them have last names like “Sherman” and “Funicello” and “Van Dyke.” Who am I to try and rip a Disney Legend award away from Dick Van Dyke?

But I have to admit, there are quite a few of my favorites that are missing. The most formative years of my childhood happened during the 80s, a time when home video was moving into the mainstream, and it seemed every weekend my dad would rent us one of those old Disney films in the white clamshell cases, with Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice next to the words “Walt Disney Home Video.” This was back in the days when there were such things as video stores, and Disney was one of the first studios to put together a cohesive home video strategy. They tended to label everything as a classic–which in the early 80s meant we were treated to such masterpieces as The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, and Gus–alongside Mary Poppins and Davy Crockett.

If you lived at that time, you probably remember the little “Walt Disney and You” previews that played at the end of these movies. It was always the same commercial. I got to know it by heart. When I went looking for it on YouTube, I was surprised I could still quote it almost word for word (a few decades after the fact). This is how I was introduced to the Walt Disney film library, so even though many of these films are long forgotten, to me they simply ARE Disney (side note: if anybody knows where I can download the “Roses and Rainbows” song from The Devil and Max Devlin, please let me know ASAP).

I mention all this, because there are some names from these films that are quintessential Disney legends. In fact, if they are remembered at all, it’s probably because of their association with these movies. If Chris Carter can spend years on the talk show circuit trying to get into the NFL Hall of Fame, then I figure I can use my platform as an obscure Disney blogger to try to lobby the powers-that-be on this. It’s time to rectify these grievous slights and vote these people the Disney Legend award they so richly deserve.

Burl Ives

Burl IvesThis American folk singer landed parts in a few of the more noticeable live-action features to come out of the post-war Studio: Summer Magic and So Dear to My Heart. It’s his voice you hear on those awesome Disney music compilations singing On The Front Porch, or crooning Ugly Bug Ball, which still gets airplay during the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom.

Even if you don’t think those films are all that spectacular, Ives still had a long association with Disneyland records, releasing songs on several different albums. And for us park fans, he was the voice of Sam the Eagle in America Sings.

And pretty much every child today still listens to Burl’s voice at least once a year, when Christmas time rolls around. He’s the snowman narrator of Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, and even though that wasn’t a Disney production, it’s still pretty darn cool.

Dorothy McGuire

Dorothy McGuireDorothy McGuire managed to have a long and industrious career as an actress without becoming a bona fide star, but she can lay claim to the female lead part in two of the absolute all-time best Disney live-action films: Old Yeller and Swiss Family Robinson.

She plays the mother in both, and in many ways, it’s the same role. Both are hardened, adventurous women who provide the moral center for their families. And she also gets to be the mom to both Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran in both films — both of whom are already Disney Legends.

Dorothy also had a leading role in Summer Magic (playing Haley Mills’s mom, another Disney Legend)… where she starred alongside Mr. Burl Ives.

Peter Ustinov

Peter UstinovUstinov is a legitimate acting powerhouse (multiple Academy Awards), which carries legendary weight.

He is featured prominently in a few bad Disney films of the 70s: Blackbeard’s Ghost, Treasure of Matecumbe, and One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (which once provided me with an answer in a trivia contest).

Ustinov also guest-hosted the Muppet Show and appeared in Great Muppet Caper (before the Muppets were owned by Disney).

But he is beloved by me for his incredible vocal performance as Prince John in Robin Hood, which is one of my favorite animated features.

James MacArthur

James MacArthurMacArthur was ostensibly the male lead for two movies that went on to inspire Disneyland attractions. In Swiss Family Robinson, he played eldest son Fritz, who is pretty much the action hero of the film. You might recall this movie as the inspiration for the Swiss Family Treehouse (and even if you didn’t, you hopefully inferred it). Remember, there are many other Disney legends associated with that movie (including the aforementioned Kirk and Corcoran, and the film’s director, Ken Annakin)

MacArthur also played the lead in Third Man on the Mountain, the movie that gave us the Disneyland Matterhorn.

He had other Disney roles as well, including several episodes of the Disney tv show. He was probably most familiar to people for his non-Disney tv work on Hawaii Five-O, but MacArthur is a legit Disney legend contender.

Janet Munro

Janet MunroIf I’m going to include other slighted Swiss Family Robinson cast members like James MacArthur and Dorothy McGuire, then I need to get another person in here whose last name also begins with M.

Janet Munro was the love interest in Swiss Family Robinson, the love interest in Third Man on the Mountain, and the love interest in Darby O’Gill and the Little People, where she got to kiss Sean Connery — making her the very first Bond Girl.

Tragically, Munro died young, but three solid Disney movies as a female lead as well as some Disney television appearances make her a bona fide candidate for the Disney Legend award.

Don Knotts

Don KnottsI don’t understand it. Tim Conway (one half of the Apple Dumpling Gang) is already a Disney legend. Why not Knotts??

Most people know him from Three’s Company, but Knotts starred in so many bad 70s Disney movies that he deserves an award just for surviving. He’s got a Herbie sequel in there, multiple Apple Dumpling Gang films, and the football-playing mule picture, Gus.

Later in his career, he even found time to record the voice of Turkey Lurkey for Chicken Little, which is appropriate, because nobody resembles a turkey like Don Knotts.

He is also the subject of my favorite Michael Eisner quote of all time. When being courted for the top job at Disney, Eisner scoffed and said (with what I imagine is a voice dripping with disdain): “They still think Don Knotts is a movie star.”

Phil Harris

Phil HarrisCome on now, this is an egregious fault. If anybody is a Disney legend, it’s Phil Harris.

Phil was the voice of Baloo in the Jungle Book. That boisterous performance alone should have earned him a legend award. Heck, Steve Martin is a legend for the Father of the Bride series and a segment introduction in Fantasia 2000. Billy Crystal did Mike Wazowski and he got an award. We’re not gonna give it to Baloo?

Oh yeah, he was also Thomas O’Malley in The Aristocats and Little John in Robin Hood. Just gift wrap the statue and send it to his heirs already.

 

22 thoughts on “7 Unsung Disney Legends that Should Be in the Hall of Fame

  1. I agree with your choices but let us not forget Margret Kerry the model for tinker bell she still does speaking engagements and carries herself in proper Disney fashion. Another suggestion would be Lois prima

  2. Thank you for your wonderfully entertaining blog. I was so happy to see your reference to the Disney home video promos. The song randomly popped into my head a few years ago after laying dormant in the dark recesses of my brain for nearly two decades except I was missing a few lyrics. Thank God for YouTube. I may have gone crazy had I not had a tool at my disposal to fill in the gaps.

    Also happy to see some love for Robin Hood here. I actually read recently an opinion from someone who considers Robin Hood to be a failure on the level of The Black Cauldron and I was mortified. Not only is Robin Hood a fine story that we are lucky to have recounted in so many cinematic masterpieces, but the animated film is by far the best re-telling of the story. Ever.

    • You know how people always ask you what your favorite Disney character is? My answer hasn’t changed in 30 years. Robin Hood.

      And that home video promo is forever etched in my memory. I will sing that song when I am 80 years old.

  3. I second all those and I’d add Jodie Foster, who was in both Candleshoe and Freaky Friday.

  4. I completely agree. I am flabbergasted that Phil Harris is Legend status-less. Also, I love your writing. That second paragraph is genius. Genius, I say!

  5. I got such a nostalgia rush from that video clip… I can’t count how many times I saw that as a kid!

    I agree, it’s criminal that Phil Harris isn’t a Legend yet. His voice and personality contributed hugely to 60s/70s Disney. How could they not honor him?

  6. I second that Phil Harris nomination! That guy is classic Disney! Where would we all be today without “The Bare Necessities”?

  7. I feel the exact same way. I knew the lines that were coming before the clips even showed up. Such a great little Disney commercial. Really has me nostalgic to re-watch all these old movies.

  8. My childhood came rushing back at me with that VHS video clip. Somehow that woman telling Pollyanna that she has a “stubby little nose” always stuck with (or haunted) me.

  9. I just wrote a blog post about Phil Harris, so I’m right there with you on that one. Egregious is an understatement.

    I also just wrote a post about someone else who should be on this list–Verna Felton. She voiced the Fairy Godmother, The Queen of Hearts, Flora in Sleeping Beauty, and three more Disney credits to her name. Come on!!

    Why on Earth didn’t they make James MacArthur a Legend along with Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran? Seems like a no-brainer.

    • Verna Felton easily belongs on the Legends list. Hard to believe there are so many big names that haven’t received one!

  10. Shane, I agree with every one of your picks, but I just cannot let one of your comments slide…

    BLACKBEARD’S GHOST is an awesome movie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Ustinov is incredible in this! It’s got great, funny pirate dialogue! A perfectly-paced plot! A cute Dean Jones-Suzanne Pleshette romance! The track meet scenes define 60’s Disney comedies! It’s got cartoony gangsters! Michael Conrad as coach “Pinetop Purvis!” Elsa Lanchester in love with a dead criminal! Beautiful matte paintings and a sweet final scene! The centerpiece painting of Blackbeard lived in Disneyland’s POC ride before the Depp-over!

    I’m gonna stick my neck out and say that, as corny and somewhat dated (charmingly dated) as that 1968 fantasy may seem today, Blackbeard’s Ghost is a better film than the animated Robin Hood. 🙂

    And, again, I think all your picks deserve to be official Disney Legends!

    • Rich, Robin Hood is a master stroke of animation genius and triumphs over all! Okay, I know it’s not that great, but it’s the second animated film I remember seeing, and to this day Robin Hood is my favorite Disney character.

      As to Blackbeard’s Ghost… I honestly have not seen it in a decade or two. But maybe I should give it another shot. After all, I think Dean Jones is possibly the greatest Disney film star who ever lived (either him or Tommy Kirk), so maybe I’m just forgetting its awesomeness.

    • I was very saddened when James MacArthur passed away only a couple of years ago. I felt like part of my childhood had been ripped away.

  11. I agree with all your selections. I also wish Disney would go back to making family movies… I adore the animation, but there is such a lack of live action movies the entire family can go and enjoy these days.

    • They turned out some clunkers for sure, but the Disney family live-action movies were a class all to themselves. NOBODY makes these kinds of things anymore. Of course, Hollywood no longer makes original stories of any kind.

    • If I could weasel my way onto the selection committee, I would rectify all these errors. It would probably result in a rather large induction ceremony…

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