The Walt Disney Family Museum’s Happily Ever After Hours event got very animated on May 22nd with special guests Ashley Eckstein and Bret Iwan. Ashley Eckstein is a lifelong Disney fan most famous as the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the founder of Her Universe, an apparel company that celebrates all fandoms, but mostly Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel. Bret Iwan is the current voice of Mickey Mouse and grew up idolizing Walt Disney. Here are 10 things we learned during this Happily Ever After Hours event.
1. Their friendships started thanks to D23.
Ashley Eckstein and Bret Iwan have a banter that suggests they’ve been friends for decades, but in reality it all started when they got a call from D23. “It was at the beginning of Mickey’s 90th,” Ashley shared. “We were doing an unboxing video for the D23 fan club’s member gift,” Bret added.
“We constantly joke that we’ve been best friends our entire life,” Bret expanded. “We met on the set of that unboxing video and then we had some fun together on Destination D doing some co-hosting and the rest is history.” Ashley shared how they both felt sad when the D23 event was over. “Once it ended, we were both really bummed. I was sad not to continue to work together and I think that was the moment we realized we should be friends.”
2. They begged to host the Expo Stage at the D23 Expo.
Ashley and Bret co-hosted events on the Expo Stage at the 2019 D23 Expo. “We heard that there was a need for something more on the Expo stage and we said we’ll do it,” Bret shared. Ashley Eckstein gave a shout out to their mutual friend, D23’s Justin Arthur. “The Amazing team at D23 gave us a chance, but Bret’s right. We’re both of the mindset instead of waiting for the opportunity to come to you, just create it.” Bret shared how much fun they have at these events. “It’s work, but it's not hard work when it’s with someone you want to do stuff with…. We love helping the brand. We love talking about Disney and the history and Walt and Star Wars included.”
3. Ashley Eckstein is the Turkey Leg Princess.
“My love for Disney and the eventual dream of being on the Disney Channel started right here in Orlando, FL,” Ashley shared about her family’s history with the Walt Disney Company. “My dad was a Cast Member at Walt Disney World… Our family’s claim to fame is that my dad was part of the original team that brought the turkey legs into the parks. I joke that I have no royal lineage, but I would proudly claim Princess Turkey Leg… I thank my parents all the time for instilling the love of Disney and really the lessons of everything that the world of Disney teaches us.”
4. They both had Disney Channel dreams thanks to the MMC.
“I started acting at a pretty young age and it was my dream to be on the Disney Channel,” Ashley shared about her goals from a young age. “I didn’t want to win an Oscar, I just wanted to be on the Disney Channel.” Specifically, it was the reboot of the Mickey Mouse Club, better known as the MMC, that ran from 1989 to 1996 and launched the careers of Britney Spears, Keri Russell, Ryan Gosling, and Christina Aguilera. Ashley and Bret both had dreams of being on the show. “So really I have the Mickey Mouse Club to thank for really making me realize my dream,” Ashley concluded.
5. Both of their Disney Channel dreams came true.
It’s well known that Ashley Eckstein played mean girl Muffy on That’s So Raven, but Bret Iwan shared a story that even Ashley didn’t know. “Like Ashley, I started my career on Disney Channel as well on Hannah Montana.” Bret was cast as a paparazzi in an episode with guest star Dolly Parton, who played Miley Stewart’s godmother Aunt Dolly. “Long story short, unfortunately due to budget restraints, they weren’t able to feature me as I had hoped and my big toe is the only part of me in the episode.”
6. Ashley Eckstein didn’t think she would be cast as Ahsoka Tano.
“I thought I was auditioning for Padme and I went in and I knew I didn’t sound like her,” Ashley Eckstien shared about auditioning for Star Wars: The Clone Wars. After the first line came out, they stopped me and said there’s this new character, she’s very top secret. I was so excited because I had a chance at a new character and then my dreams were dashed because I couldn’t do an Icelandic accent.” Dave Filoni’s vision for the character was that she would sound like Bjork, but all he told Ashley was that he wanted an Icelandic accent. She worked with a dialect coach to learn an authentic Icelandic accent, which sounds more Irish, and when she got back in the studio Dave stopped her and said she wasn’t doing an Icelandic accent. Frustrated, she gave him a little bit of attitude and thought she would be dismissed. Instead, that moment encapsulated the spirit of Ahsoka Tano and she was hired, which is how the character ended up without an accent.
7. Bret Iwan shares Walt Disney’s love of trains.
“My dad has always been a trains fan and specifically a model railroader,” the voice of Mickey Mouse shared. “I can remember a train inside the house in HO scale and then the train went around the living room ceiling in G scale for a bit.” Like Walt Disney, Bret’s father’s train hobby extended into their backyard. “I’ve maintained my hobby by putting in a garden railroad in my backyard when I got a house,” Bret shared about his own backyard train. His dad also built a half-scale replica of the Disneyland attraction Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland. Bret’s love of trains even led to a job driving the 1881 Colorado narrow gauge locomotive at Knott’s Berry Farm. In addition to trains, Walt Disney has always been Bret’s personal hero. “As a kid, I was obsessed with Walt… Every book report I did as a kid was on Walt.” Walt Disney famously dressed as his hero, Abraham Lincoln, for a school project and Bret dressed as Walt Disney for his, even making a short animated film. “It’s a unique hobby, it’s a unique interest, and I love that I share that with Walt.”
8. Ashley Eckstein spent a night in Cinderella Castle.
“One of my favorite Disney memories that is magical beyond belief is I got to spend the night in Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World,” Ashley shared, a story that she doesn’t think she’s shared with fans before this event. “I just realized I’m incredibly blessed and the magic that Disney creates for so many people… I don’t know if I could ever top this. I’m so thankful to Disney for all the memories they’ve made for us.” She tried to stay up all night, but regretfully fell asleep. “I did get to go outside of the castle and get a picture after everyone had left the park. That was pretty cool.”
9. The responsibility of speaking for Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mouse is a timeless character that had been in the public conscious for over 80 years when he stepped in to speak for him. “That is a challenge with a character like Mickey, he’s established. We know him, we love him… When I came in, I wanted to do everything I could to honor the character.” Bret took his homework very seriously, trying to research as many versions of Mickey Mouse as he could. “Admittedly, there was a lot that even I wasn’t aware of… I didn’t know about the toys and the video game franchises and the emerging apps at the time. It was 2009…. I really looked at the beginning of my career as a bit of an educational period.” In a way, voicing Mickey Mouse is like speaking for Walt Disney. “Wayne [Alwine] recounted for Jimmy MacDonald saying ‘Remember kid, you’re just doing this for the boss’… People often say Walt was Mickey and Mickey was Walt,… but I definitely feel that was a true statement.”
10. They both give back to the fan community.
“Being a part of Star Wars is not about you,” Ashley Eckstein shared. “Once you become a part of this franchise, it’s so much bigger than one person… It’s a privilege to be part of the Star Wars family and you just do your best to live up to the opportunity.” When Ashley got the role of Ahsoka Tano, she was told that being a part of Star Wars wouldn’t make her famous, but it would give her a platform. “Walt Disney inspired me in that way. I just saw how much good Walt did and I just want to give back, I want to do good with it.” Bret feels the same way. “Mickey is the celebrity, I’m not…. I just want to have fun and inspire other people to do good.”
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.