After displaying the stunning first look at Jon Favreau’s new take on the animated classic, the original creative team behind “The Lion King” gathered in the D23 Expo Arena to share stories of their time working on the classic picture. Moderated by Executive Producer Don Hahn, the panelists included Rob Minkoff (Co-Director), Mark Henn (Supervising Animator for “Young Simba”), and Tony Bancroft (Supervising Animator for “Pumbaa”).
Minkoff revealed to the audience that “The Lion King” almost didn’t happen due to the studio having more faith in the animated musical drama, “Pocahontas”. While “Pocahontas” was a success in its own right, “The Lion King” later out-grossed “Pocahontas” by nearly $200 million. A clip was also shown of his original storyboard pitch of the pivotal moment in the film when the spirit of Simba’s father appears before him to guide him back to Pride Rock.
Henn and Bancroft each shared their experiences with the film as well, with Henn noting that he had originally campaigned to animate the villain, Scar, but was told by Bancroft that “Simba is the key to this movie; Without Simba, it won’t work.” Bancroft shared a humorous story in which his office-mate (Mike Surrey, Supervising Animator for “Timon”) made a mess of the office to make it seem as though a second earthquake had occurred after the ’94 Northridge quake.
The creative team then welcomed Ernie Sabella (Voice of “Pumbaa”) to the stage, where he sang an impromptu snippet of his signature song, “Hakuna Matata”. Sabella shared joyful tales of working with Nathan Lane (Voice of “Timon”) and how they were both originally slated to sing the eventual Oscar-winning song “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” in the film, but were replaced after Elton John expressed his dissatisfaction with having the “stinky, old, fat warthog singing my song!”. It was also mentioned that Pumbaa’s frequent flatulence problem wasn’t originally in the script, but was rather a creation of Sabella in order to crack up an exhausted Lane, whom, at the time of recording, was also starring in “Guys and Dolls” on Broadway.
Cast members Jim Cummings (Voice of “Ed”) and Whoopi Goldberg (Voice of “Shenzi”) were welcomed next, with Goldberg being a complete surprise. As two of the three villainous, yet lovable hyenas (the third being Cheech Marin (Voice of “Banzai”), who unfortunately couldn’t make it) they shared their joy of working on the film and displayed rather humorous clips of Cummings’ maniacal laughter and Goldberg’s singing in the recording booth. As the panel drew to a close, Hahn introduced the audience to Carmen Twillie (Vocalist; “Circle of Life”) to sing the Oscar-nominated song that we all fell in love with 23 years ago, reminding us all that we are a part of the great Circle of Life.