DisneyEntertainment

9 Surprising things we learned from The Lion King D23 Expo Panel

This post contains affiliate links.

The Lion King is a Disney classic that everyone loves, but how much do you actually know about the making of the film? These are 9 surprising things we learned from The Lion King D23 Expo Panel. I bet you’ll be as shocked as we were! My attendance at the 2017 D23 Expo was hosted by Disney, but these reactions are real. 

The Lion King D23 Expo panel was my favorite part of the entire expo. It truly brought The Lion King magic back to life. It was beautiful, emotional, hilarious, and insightful. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe that I was getting a behind-the-scenes look at the ultimate Disney classic! The Lion King is a Disney film that will always remain in my heart. I literally sing, “I just can’t wait to be king” on a regular basis. The love is real, my friends. While I love it so much, there are so many things that I didn’t know about the making of the film. And boy was I surprised!

9 surprising things we learned from The Lion King D23 Expo Panel

So, as we entered an African themed room, I looked around to notice that this panel wasn’t nearly as large as the main D23 Expo panels, which held 7,000 fans. If I were to guess, I’d say the room had 300-400 people max. This made the experience feel much more personal and made me feel a bit more special.

Throughout the panel, we were joined by different talent and The Lion King creators to give us an insider’s look at the making of The Lion King:

  • Don Hahn — Producer
  • Rob Minkoff — Director
  • Tony Bancroft — Animator
  • Mark Henn — Animator
  • Ernie Sabella — Voice of “Pumbaa”
  • Jim Cummings — Voice of “Ed”
  • Whoopie Goldberg — Voice of “Shenzi”

Just like you, I was fangirling over the Disney Legend, Whoopie Goldberg (who I’d just seen at the Disney Legends Ceremony but was still just as honored to be in the same room with her). Maybe because I was so young, I didn’t know she was a voice actor in The Lion King! So, that in itself was a huge surprise. Let’s talk about all the best moments from The Lion King D23 Expo panel!

1. The Lion King almost didn’t happen!

At the same time as The Lion King was being pitched, so was Pocahontas. Disney immediately picked up Pocahontas and had complete faith in the success of the film. However, the weren’t as excited about The Lion King. In fact, it was very difficult to get anyone to work on The Lion King because most people didn’t believe in the success of the film. Joke’s on them now. This Disney classic made over $6 Billion, while Pocahontas charted at over $100 Million.

2. It was the first of it’s kind.

One man reason the creators had so much trouble at the beginning of The Lion King was because it was a story that nobody had every heard before. It was the first of it’s kind and not a fairy tale, like the movies Disney was comfortable creating. The thought of Lion’s being friends with predators seemed unreal, but the creators had everything planned out and as we all know, it was a great success. The storytelling is incredible.

3. Elton John’s first version of “Circle of Life” was not very good.

Rob Minkoff spilled all the details about “Circle of Life” and Elton John! He may have kicked himself after, but he definitely spilled the beans. So, apparently Elton John’s first version of “Circle of Life” was a complete miss. It wasn’t good at all and just didn’t fit with the vision the creators had for the film. Part of this was because Elton was traveling and not able to hop right in the studio with The Lion King creators. However, Rob Minkoff sent Elton John a new direction by describing the song as a celebration in Africa of the birth of a baby Lion. Then, it all made sense and Elton’s second version was the one we all know and love.

4. The original title was “King of the Jungle”.

There’s not much I can say about that, but it make me laugh because it sounds a lot like Tarzan!

5. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” was almost performed by Timon and Pumbaa.

It’s true! Ernie Sabella told us that him and Nathan Lane (Timon) were originally supposed to sing “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” but Elton John wasn’t a privy to the idea of a gassy warthog singing his beautiful work of art. As much as I love Pumbaa, I’m happy the song was taken more seriously because it’s a beautiful classic that we will remember forever.

6. Pumbaa’s frequent gas was all Ernie Sabella’s idea.

Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa) and Nathan Lane (Timon) were friends before The Lion King because they worked on “Guys and Dolls” together. Basically, Ernie knew exactly what would make Nathan laugh when he was at the point of exhaustion. So, to lighten the mood and to help Nathan get back into character, he would make gas sounds. It made Nathan laugh so much and it fit with the Pumbaa’s character so well, that they decided it needed to stay in the film.

7. The voice of “Ed” (Jim Cummings) was also the voice of other iconic Disney characters.

When Jim Cummings visited the stage he had a nice surprise for us! We learned that he’s the voice of many iconic Disney characters, as well as other major animated characters that we all know and love. Jim gifted us with an example of a few of the voices he’s done! I don’t remember every single voice he performed for us, but these are a characters you’ll recognize (inside and outside of Disney):

  • DuckTales “El Capitan”
  • Winnie The Pooh
  • Tigger
  • Darkwing Duck
  • The Pagemaster “Long John Silver”
  • A Goofy Movie “Pete”
  • Taz
  • TMNT “Razoul”

8. Whoopie begged to be in The Lion King.

When Whoopie Goldberg hit the stage, she admitted to begging to be in The Lion King. As soon as she heard about it, she just knew she wanted to be in it. I mean, it’s DISNEY! Isn’t that every actor’s dream?

9. The Lion King will be released on Blu-ray for the first time this month!

The most exciting news of the day was learning that The Lion King would be released from the vault in a Signature Collection Edition Blu-ray with bonus features! We can finally bring this classic home on Blu-ray so everyone can get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film!

The Lion King Blu-ray Bonus Extras include: 

  • Footage of The Recording Sessions
  • Archival footage inside The Story Room
  • An peek inside the creation of The Lion King villain, Scar
  • Sing-along version of the movie
  • & more!

Available on Digital 8/15 & Blu-ray 8/29

One of the biggest animated films in history, The Lion King, the coming-of-age masterpiece, filled with humor and heart, breathtaking animation and soul-stirring Academy Award®–winning music (1994: Best Original Score and Best Original Song, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”), joins the highly celebrated Walt Disney Signature Collection. The Lion King roars to its rightful place in the Walt Disney Signature Collection on Digital Aug. 15th and on Blu-ray™ Aug. 29th.


Audiences will fall in love all over again with the treasured classic, and a new generation of fans will laugh with Timon and Pumbaa, cry with Simba and Mufasa, burst into song, and find their place in the “Circle of Life.” The Walt Disney Signature Collection release includes over three hours of classic bonus material and exclusive, brand new features inviting viewers to sing along with the film’s award-winning music, observe recording sessions, step inside the story room, witness the evolution of a villain, and join Nathan Lane (voice of Timon) and Matthew Broderick (voice of Adult Simba) for an extended conversation regarding the legacy of “The Lion King.”

The Lion King Gift Ideas


DISCLOSURE: The opinions expressed here are that of Women and Their Pretties only. While the products in this post were given complimentary (unless otherwise stated) for promotional purposes, that does not alter my opinion of the product(s) mentioned. This post may contain sponsored links and affiliate links (which will be stated at the beginning of the post). Read Full Disclosure Here

Leave a Response