Walt Disney’s 1994 animated blockbuster “The Lion King” certainly hasn’t been an endangered species for the studio. Not with an international gross of $788.2 million. Though it hasn’t been out on DVD or VHS since 2004, Disney reports it is the most successful title in home entertainment history. The film has also spawned two straight-to-video sequels and a TV series. And the Broadway musical version has played more than 5,000 performances and won six Tony Awards including best musical. Now the lions Simba (Matthew Broderick), Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Scar (Jeremy Irons), the laughing hyenas (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings), the shaman monkey Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) and the comedic buddies Pumbaa the wart hog (Ernie Sabella) and Timon the hyper meerkat (Nathan Lane) are back for a two-week run in theaters in a new 3-D version. (On Oct. 4, Disney will release the 3-D Blu-ray and regular Blu-ray). Ironically, “The Lion King” was considered the “B” project at the studio. Everyone was paying more attention to “Pocahontas,” which would come out in 1995. George Scribner, the director of the 1988 hit “Oliver & Company” was attached to the film, originally called “The King of the Jungle.” Some of the filmmakers and actors recently discussed their memories of making “The Lion King.”
Animator of young Simba
At the time I was working out of the studio in Florida. I was in the midst of doing “Aladdin” when we heard about “The Lion King” project. It had a different name and a different director. We were all pretty excited about it because a lot of the artists in the Florida studio particularly were all very young and new to the world of animation and a lot of them were excellent wildlife artists. A lot of us felt it was kind of our “Bambi” if you will.
Everybody went to the zoos. Jim Fowler from the old “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” days came in and did lectures. We had lion cubs and some of the birds. The little, little lions were much more friendly [that the older lions] and we got to get up close to pet them and tussle with them a bit.
Voice of the laughing hyena Ed
I wrote all my own dialogue! I was basically a running gag, a site gag and a sound gag. I remember director Rob Minkoff said “Get some legal pads....” We all wrote down the words anger, blood lust, hunger, fear, trepidation, nervousness. All of these different emotions. He then said there is your script, so laugh and convey each of those emotions with a laugh.
Supervising animator of Pumbaa
I knew he [Pumbaa] was going to be kind of a scene stealer. Mike Surrey, he did Timon -- we were good friends. We shared a room together and we lived the “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle working on the film. We tried to enthuse our relationship, our friendship into the relationship of Pumbaa and Timon.
There was a lot of choreography between Mike and I. I would usually start the scene because Pumbaa became like a stage for Timon. Timon was always on his head, or his nose or his back, pulling on his tail. I would do the dialogue up to a certain point and I would give it over to Mike. He would put Timon on top of him or he would be pulling his hair or something like that. We worked back and forth like that. We said let’s take advantage of that whenever we can. Let’s make these guys the best we can make them.
It was the first film that had been sort of put into production that wasn’t based on any kind of published material. It sort of started out inauspiciously as a pitch about doing “Bambi in Africa.”
The film was very much a drama. We kind of started over and said let’s look at this movie in a different way and try to make it a bit more, not only mythical, but add a bit of magic to it.
Pumbaa and Timon were characters described as Simba’s childhood friends who met Simba around the water hole. Another one of the significant changes was to change Pumbaa and Timon to become older adult characters that Simba would meet once he left the pride lands. Casting Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella really brought it to life. They were both performing in “Guys and Dolls” in New York at the time. They came in and happened to bump into each other at the audition -- they didn’t know they were going to be there together and asked if they could do their audition together. They read for the hyenas. Hearing them together they were hilarious. We hadn’t figured out who Timon and Pumbaa were going to be character-wise, but having heard Nathan and Ernie, we said it has to be them.
I think it gave an opportunity for a lot of young animators who hadn’t had a chance to lead a character. So they were fired up to do a good job -- it was quite an inclusive and creative circle. Everyone was listened to. When it came to fruition and everyone could see the message it was putting out and the heart the movie had that went on to be embraced by the audience.... it was very gratifying. I am still kind of overwhelmed by the response.
Voice of Simba
I was on my summer vacation in Ireland, the phone rang and it was my agent. They said they were interested in me to play this lion.
The script was not finished really, I don’t think. I remember at the start of it, it was slightly based on “Hamlet.” I saw the drawings of the animals and who I would be. “The Lion King” must tap into a deep mythological thing.
I met Nathan Lane one time. I came in to record and he was finishing up. I sat with him and Ernie Sabella in the hallway. When they were recording, it was all fun and everybody was laughing. Then I would come in and talk about the spirit of my father and the stars. I felt left out.
I am adult Simba, which I am always fond of telling people. Adult Simba always had a slight X-rated sound to me.
Voice of the mandrill baboon Rafiki
I had always been prior to “The Lion King” just playing around at parties and things with an accent that I really didn’t know what to do with. But I always liked it. When Don Hahn and I were in the recording studio, we were trying to determine what voice to use. I finally came up with this thing I had been playing with. It was like my idea of a fake Jamaican accent. I had no idea at the time that it was not a good accent, but it always tickled me. The voice sort of grounded us in a place where all of those animals might be. It was like a fake Africa, but it was very nice.