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10 things you probably didn't know about 'The Lion King'

In anticipation of the special 3D re-release, Disney shares stories about the production of 'The Lion King' more than 15 years ago.

By Norm SchragerMeet in the Lobby / August 4, 2011

Scar talks to a young Simba in a photo from the original classic (Walt Disney Co./ABC).

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Seventeen years after Disney’s The Lion King impressed fans and critics, the Mouse House is readying a 3D re-release of the masterful animated film. To celebrate the limited, two-week run — which begins in the US on September 16 — the folks at Walt Disney Pictures are sharing some inside scoop on the movie, one of the most beloved titles in their illustrious catalog, and part of Disney Animation’s modern resurgence. Disney is calling this “10 Things You Never Knew About The Lion King.” But if you’re a Disney fan, maybe you did know some of these. Read on …

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10. The original wish-list casting for the hyenas? Cheech and Chong.
Beauty and the Beast director Gary Trousdale pitched in on the storyboarding, actually imagining the comic pair as the hyenas in his work. The problem: Cheech and Chong weren’t working together at the time. The result: Cheech and Whoopi instead.

9. The inspiration for Pumbaa rubbing his belly? An animator’s pregnant wife.
Animator Tony Bancroft noticed his wife stroking her baby-engorged belly, and thought the same action would make Pumbaa more “human and relatable.” Minus the pregnancy, of course.

8. Hakuna Matata almost didn’t happen.
The initial idea was a song called “He’s Got It All Worked Out,” about Simba’s acclimation to the fine art of bug-eating. When an entire song about bugs didn’t fly, the team came back from a trip to Africa with a better idea …

7. The original roles for which Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella auditioned? The hyenas. (Again with the hyenas?)
The two funny guys were working together on stage in Guys and Dolls and ran into each other at The Lion King audition. When they convinced a casting director to let them read for the hyenas together, they killed. And co-director Rob Minkoff, along with others, thought another pair of animals might suit them better.

6. Rafiki wasn’t always so weird.
The character started out as a “crazy hermit monk,” as co-director Roger Allers explains. When the team decided Rafiki should be far more wacky than wise, actor Robert Guillaume spent an entire day trying to figure out the character’s voice and laugh. Especially since he was originally hired to play the more serene Rafiki.

5. To really understand lion movements, Disney brought lions into the studio.
Sure, they once brought in forest animals while producing Bambi. But lions are slightly more dangerous. The famed Jim Fowler made it happen.

4. Amount of time to convert The Lion King into 3D? Nine months.
Producer Don Hahn claims he didn’t think it could be done. Three months spent prepping and testing, then six months of production work.

3. Zazu the bird started out much smaller.
This seems kinda blah compared to some of the other facts, but Zazu was a small, pointy-beaked bird until the team encountered some snooty-looking hornbill birds during an Africa trip.

2. Pride Rock is based on… nowhere in particular.
Yes, the design team investigated plenty of landscapes while in Kenya, but claimed the animals all moved way too fast to nail down some sketches. So they did photo research, took a little from here, a little more from there… and poof, created Pride Rock in beautiful Burbank, California.

1. The Lion King was not originally called The Lion King.
First, it was King of the Jungle, meant to comment on the type of survival Simba must exercise. But there’s no jungle in the story. Hmm. Then, it was King of the Beasts, but the team preferred a title that focused on the new lion king. Hey, wait a minute …

The Lobby’s quick facts about The Lion King

  • Ranked #130 of all-time on the IMDb list
  • Nominated for four Oscars (all music-focused), won two
  • Has earned $783 million worldwide in theaters, making it the 35th biggest movie of all time

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