D23 Expo shared a plethora of information about Disney and what’s to come for moviegoers over the next few years. One special panel was dedicated to “The Lion King,” which was hosted by producer Don Hahn and included surprise appearances by voice cast favorites Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), Jim Cummings (hyena Ed), and Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi). With the earlier announcement of The Lion King live-action film in the works, the special D23 Expo Lion King Panel seemed perfectly suited for the occasion.
I was invited as media to cover this event. All opinions are my own.
D23 Expo Lion King Panel
The 1994 classic was originally looked at by Disney as a “B” film, because for the first time the studio was making two films at the same time. “Pocahontas” was seen as the prestige film. Little did they know The Lion King would soar at the box office and become a beloved classic!
Mark Henn, a legendary Disney animator mostly known for his work on Disney animated princesses, was also on the panel to discuss his work in film. He was the lead animator on Simba, but was originally more interested in drawing the villain, Scar. Henn shared, “What really attracted me was Scar. I campaigned to get the character and had this Rex Reed version of Scar. I wanted to get out of my princess box.” Because Simba was the more important character in the film, the studio felt he was better suited for that role instead.
Jim Cummings, known for his role as Winnie the Pooh and Darkwing Duck, also joined the panel. Sharing a bit about his role as the “lauging hyena” Cummings mentions, “I remember the script was anger, lust, betrayal, hunger, but it had to be a laugh.” They also played footage of Cummings in the recording booth from all those years ago.
Ernie Sabella, known for his role as Pumbaa in the film, also joined the stage. He began with reciting a few of the famous lines from the film, which triggered a big response from the audience. He recalled when he and Nathan Lane (who voiced Timon) were auditioning in the studio booth mentioning, “we were ad libbing and when we got done there was silence in the room and I said to Nathan, ‘At least we have a job at night.'” Later sharing he was surprised to find out that they both had gotten the roles.
The final entrance to the stage was by newly announced Disney Legend, Whoopi Goldberg. Whoopi had just finished her role in “Ghost” when she heard about The Lion King, and begged the studio for a role in the film saying, “It’s Africa … you know.” The filmmakers weren’t sure where to put her in the movie, but they’d had the idea of having Cheech and Chong as the two hyenas, except that they refused to work together, so it became Cheech and Whoopi.
The panel ended with a live perfomance of the “Circle of Life” performed by the film’s original singer Carmen Twillie, along with a choir and other performers dressed as cheetahs, lions and zebras. It was an amazing ending to a wonderful panel, and had the audience on their feet clapping and singing along.
I hope you enjoyed this recap of the D23 Expo Lion King Panel! Look out for more information on The Lion King live-action film and the classic returning to DVD soon.