I participated in the Lion King and Born in China In-Home Walt Disney World Press Event.
Thanks to Disney for hosting us. Our opinions are our own.
I was sitting in the audience of The Festival of the Lion King show in Disney’s Animal Kingdom when one of the performers approached an audience member and asked him to introduce himself. The man yelled out, “Akuna Matada”! The audience gasped and cheered because it was ERNIE SABELLA who has one of the most recognizable voices in Disney History. He voices The Lion King’s Pumbaa and 23 years later his voice still has an effect on people!
I participated in a fun roundtable with Ernie and we learned some cool behind-the-scenes things from him. Here are some of my favorite moments:
How does it feel to see a whole new generation respond to him? Roy E. Disney gave Ernie a watch with Pumbaa on it. Roy asked, “how does it feel to know that every child on the planet knows and loves your voice?” That’s when it hit Ernie that he makes an impact on children. Ernie shares, “So, it’s a gift, and it keeps giving. It’s gonna be way after I’m gone. And I love that.”
He didn’t originally audition for the role of Pumbaa. Nathan Lane (voice of Timone) and Ernie Sabella first auditioned for the roles of the hyenas. Ernie was convinced that they didn’t get the part. After two months of not hearing anything, Ernie called his agent and he was told that he was going to play a part called Pumbaa.
Ernie and Nathan’s first session was with Tim Rice, Elton John, Rob, Don, and “a big piano”. The two actors were nervous because they couldn’t remember what they sounded like during the initial audition. What was the inspiration for Ernie’s first line? The Godfather!
Ernie surprised kids at FAO Schwartz. When the movie first came out, he was told to go to FAO Schwartz because they had a mountain of Pumbaa dolls. “I go there, and I see this like three year old holding a big Pumbaa. And I’m behind some dolls. And I went “Hakuna Matata”. I think I did that one or two more times until a parent looked at me like, “hey, get outta here!” Ernie chuckled
How does Ernie feel about the live action Lion King? He can’t wait to see it and thinks it’s thrilling. Seth Rogan is voicing Pumbaa and Ernie thinks that he’s funny, “I like him in the movies. You know, it would’ve been hard if it was somebody I didn’t like him. He’s funny And I think he’s very Pumbaa-esque.”
When Eddie did the voice recordings for The Lion King, did he record with Nathan? “All my recordings, every single word was with Nathan. And they said this is the first time in Disney history that had been done because of our chemistry.” Ernie also said a funny moment from a press event, “when we did press after the movie was out, people would ask, what’s an interesting characteristic about Pumbaa? And I said, Pumbaa is the first and only Disney character to have gas. And this question then kept being asked. And now we’re at a table like this, and Nathan’s right next to me. And there’s a microphone right here, and I said, Pumbaa is the only, Disney character to have gas. And Nathan grabbed the mike and said, actually, it was Snow White, but we don’t talk about it. I mean that stopped everything. He’s so quick.”
How long can he “Pumbaa” talk? Yeah, they booked us for like, two hours. And then we’d go sometimes four hours. And, then, for Lion King 2 they were booked four hours. But I realized I can’t do Pumbaa for four hours. And there were more lines for Pumbaa. So, uh, I had to cut back to like one-and-a-half to two. Does his voice get strained? “I don’t realize it until I’ve done it for a while. But then you need a cup of tea.”
The Lion King Signature Collection is now available on Blu-ray, DVD + Digital