Disclosure: This post is part of my all expense paid trip to Los Angeles, CA provided by Disney. However, typos, misspelled words and opinions are 100% mine
I’ve shared a ton of great, valuable information about my recent D23 Expo press trip to California; all the new and exciting movies releasing in the future. The Lion King panel was one of them! Such a lively panel filled with great tidbits about the film and great surprises, as well!! With a Lion King live-action remake in the pipeline, it seemed like the perfect time to have a panel on one of the most beloved animated films ever produced by Disney. And the fact that Disney has released the Lion King from their vault and is offering it on Blu-Ray, made it a double perfect time to host this panel.
The Circle of Awesome
Did you know that this 1994 classic was originally called a “B” movie by Disney? It’s true. At that time, the studio was also working on Pocahontas, and they fully expected it to be the more successful of the two. Little did they know that this “B” movie would become one of their most iconic animated feature films, crushing it at the box office and offering up some of the most recognized and beloved characters in the Disney library.
The panel included Don Hahn, Producer, Rob Minkoff, co-director, Mark Henn, a legendary Disney animator, Jim Cummings, known for his roles as Winnie the Pooh and Darkwing Duck, and Ernie Sabella, the voice of Pumbaa. We even got a surprise appearance by recent Disney Legend inductee, Whoopi Goldberg! This panel was amazing!
Mark Henn on His Role in the Lion King
Known primarily for his work on Disney princesses, Mark Henn was tapped as the lead animator on Simba. He was originally more interested in working on Scarr, the villainous brother of Mufasa.
“What really attracted me to Scar,” he said. “I campaigned to get the character and had this Rex Reed version of Scar. I wanted to get out of my princess box.”
The studio ultimately decided that Henn should work on Simba, as he was the more important character in the film.
Jim Cummings on Playing the “Laughing Hyena”
Jim Cummings took the stage to talk a bit about his role as the “laughing hyena” we all remember from the film. We even got to see a bit of footage of him in the recording booth!
“I remember the script was anger, lust, betrayal, hunger,” he said, “but it had to be a laugh.”
Ernie Sabella on His Role as Pumbaa “Mr. Pig”
As Ernie geared up to discuss his role as Pumbaa, he began by tossing out a few of his famous lines, which got the entire audience excited. After all, one of the most entertaining characters in the Lion King was Pumbaa. He recounted the story of he and Nathan Lane, the voice of Timon, auditioning for their roles in the studio booth.
“We were ad-libbing,” he said, “and when we got done there was silence in the room, and I said to Nathan, ‘As least we have a job at night.'” He went on to say that learning he got the part was a total surprise.
Whoopi Goldberg on Lobbying for a Role in the Film
When Whoopi walked out onto the stage, my heart skipped a beat. She is one of my favorite actresses, and I loved her as one of the hyenas in the film. Whoopi heard about The Lion King after just finishing her work on Ghost. She begged the studio for a role in the film. “It’s Africa, you know?” she said. Disney wasn’t sure where they could put her in the film. They had wanted Cheech and Chong as the two hyenas, but they refused to work together. It was kismet. Cheech and Chong became Cheech and Whoopi.
D23 Lion King Panel Ends with Pure Magic
After we’d all heard everyone talk about their roles in The Lion King, the panel was closed out with a live performance of Circle of Life. The film’s original singer Carmen Twillie, along with a choir and accompanying performers dressed as cheetahs, lions, and zebras performed the classic song. It was a powerful, moving end to one of the best panels at the expo.
The D23 Lion King Panel was one of my absolute favorites. I really enjoyed seeing the talent behind the film recounting their experiences about one of my favorite Disney animated films. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’ll never forget! And now, we can relive that masterpiece on Blu-Ray.
Disney has released The Lion King from their vault, so snag a copy for you and your family available on Digital 8/15 & Blu-ray 8/29 before it’s gone!