One of the final big presentations at the 2019 D23 Expo was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Disney Character Voices. Corey Burton opened the show with a spiel of his various voices he does for the Disney Parks. Those attending this presentation were very surprised to hear Corey as the voice of the Disneyland tram, as well as various characters from Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.
Rick Dempsey, Senior Vice President, Creative of Disney Character Voices, came on stage to introduce Les Perkins, who found Disney Character Voices. This department did not exist before 1989, and once Les Perkins asked Roy E. Disney if they could create this division, Roy replied very quickly! It was important to preserve the integrity of the Disney characters because there were many people voicing the characters in various capacities.
Les Perkins went through the early history of the characters and their voices. Walt Disney, was, of course, the first voice of Mickey Mouse. He did it until 1947 when sound effects master Jimmy MacDonald took over the voice. In 1977, another member of the sound effects department was the third voice of Mickey – Wayne Allwine. He voiced Mickey until his death in 2009. Then Bret Iwan, an artist working for Hallmark in Kansas City, was named the 4th voice of Mickey. Bret is celebrating his 10th anniversary as the official voice of Mickey Mouse.
Rick then returned to the stage and shared a video from a department Christmas party where Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor sang as Mickey and Minnie. Rick then said that Wayne passed away in 2009 and that Russi has passed away a few weeks ago. He got emotional, as did many others. The Character Voices Department is definitely a close family, so we all understood how hard it has been lately for a Rick and everyone in Character Voices.
After that, Rick introduced and brought out on stage Bret Iwan, Bill Farmer, and Tony Anselmo. They talked about their start in character voices. Bret talked about how he and his brother would perform ‘Fantasmic!’ in their backyard, complete with water effects and projections! Bret would later record dialogue for the updated ‘Fantasmic!’ He and his brother were at Disneyland the night that the show debuted. Bret has re-recorded Mickey’s classic closing line from the show, ‘some imagination, huh? Ha ha!’ He was hoping they would keep Wayne’s version of that line, but Bret’s brother heard Bret’s version, and from that moment, Bret remembered performing as Mickey in his backyard. So dreams really do come true!
Bill Farmer then talked about how he was working in Texas as a comedian, and made the move to Los Angeles to look for more work. Soon then, he became the voices of Goofy and Pluto. Bill got into voices as a kid doing the voice of Captain Crunch, and he has also performed as the voice of Kermit the Frog among others.
Tony Anselmo was working as an artist and as an apprentice to the original voice of Donald Duck, Clarence ‘Ducky’ Nash. Tony took over the voice of Donald after Nash’s death, and continues to voice the slightly temperamental Duck to this day.
When each of them were asked their special moments while voicing the characters, Bill Farmer says that it’s making kids happy. He shared a story of him, Wayne, and Russi calling a child who was in the hospital. She didn’t want to take her medication or go in for treatment. Mickey and Minnie told the child that whenever Pluto takes his medicine that he starts to feel better. A few months later, they were told that the child decided to take their medication and go in for treatment. It’s those special moments that show just how incredibly special and meaningful these characters we know and love are.
After a conversation with a Rick Dempsey, it was time to perform a skit written specifically for the D23 Expo! We were surprised when Jim Cummings was brought on stage to voice Pete for the skit! It was great to see a live performance of Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Pete!
Corey Burton was then brought back on stage to perform with Jim Cummings. Both are soundalikes for many of the classic characters we know and love. From Mad Hatter to Kaa to Ludwig Von Drake and Cheshire Cat and many others, this skit was great to see as well! Both Corey and Jim did great going from one character to another in a matter of seconds!
Rick returned to the stage and introduced Anthony Gonzalez, the voice of Miguel in Pixar’s ‘Coco.’ Anthony was 11 when he voiced Miguel, but now that he’s older and because his voice has changed, he has a soundalike. And that soundalike is his younger brother Alex! He was then brought out on stage along with the Mariachi Divas to perform ‘Remember Me.’
After the musical performance, it was now time to talk about the Disney princesses. Anika Noni Rose, Linda Larkin, Paige O’Hara, and Jodi Benson joined Rick Dempsey on stage to talk about the experiences they’ve had with their characters. All four of these ladies are Disney Legends. When Anika first got the call about becoming a Disney Legend, she thought it was for her character Tiana. She didn’t find out it was actually for her until the day of the Legends Ceremony. She was completely shocked about that.
Jodi Benson shared how it was a busy and fun Expo for her celebrating the 30th anniversary of ‘The Little Mermaid’ during a presentation earlier during the Expo. She also shared how she is the only to have voiced both a princess and villain in their respective movie. Most aren’t aware that Jodi also voiced Vanessa, Ursula’s alter ego. Many think it’s Pat Carroll. However, Pat’s Ursula cackle is mixed in with Jodi’s cackle as Vanessa. It’s blended so well that one wouldn’t notice the change in voices.
All of the ladies shared how they are both alike and different from their character. They all seemed to share most of their characters’ traits, which is great. Paige O’Hara is also an artist. She painted each of the princesses that Anika, Linda, and Jodi portray, and they were all very grateful for Paige’s thoughtfulness.
Soon after, Ginnifer Goodwin was brought out on stage. She is the voice of Judy Hopps in ‘Zootopia,’ and was also Snow White in ABC’s ‘Once Upon A Time.’ Ginnifer shared how she read for the role of Judy Hopps, but then returned to the recording studio and the plot was changed. Auli’i Cravalho was then brought up. She is the voice of ‘Moana.’ She has such a charming personality and is very much like Moana. She shared how she got the role of Moana, and how she had to voice her character in the native Hawaiian language.
One of the highlights of this part of the presentation was when Rick Dempsey gave each of the ladies a line to read. But it wasn’t going to be their own characters line. It was a line from one of their character counterparts. It was so fun to hear this because you didn’t know what to expect.
To close the presentation, Auli’i sang ‘How Far I’ll Go’ with that scene playing in the background. And with that, the crowd gave everyone a standing ovation as they all came back on stage for a final curtain call. This was definitely a highlight of the day, and a great way to end the D23 Expo!