The Lion King, as we learned last month at Disney’s D23 Expo, was never considered a sure thing at the Mouse House. In fact, during its development, studio bosses had classified the animated feature as a B-movie, instead focusing its senior creative forces on the project they thought would be more impactful, Pocahontas.
“We couldn’t get people to work on this movie,” executive producer Don Hahn told fans at The Lion King panel at D23 Expo. Rob Minkoff, who co-directed with Roger Allers, continued: “The reason was because when we were making Lion King, it was the first time in the history of the Walt Disney Studio that two [animated] movies were going to be made at the same time: Lion King and Pocahontas… The head of the studio got up and basically said, ‘Pocahontas is a home run. It’s West Side Story meets Romeo and Juliet meets Dances With Wolves. And Lion King, on the other hand, is kind of an experiment.” Added Hahn: “I think people would be surprised at how much you guys had to perform and sell the work to get Lion King up on its feet. It had really humble beginnings.”
View those humble beginnings in the video above, where Minkoff and Allers first pitch the “Hakuna Matata” sequence, one of the film’s key moments, to the team. The co-directors literally sing and dance along with the hand-drawn storyboards, mimicking the voices of the young lion Simba, meerkat Timon, and flatulent warthog Pumbaa.
As Minkoff and Allers note in the video, such pitch sessions would lead to dramatic changes to the songs and story. In this case, they reworked “Hakuna Matata” to better fit within the story. Watch the finished sequence below.
The “Hakuna Matata” pitch session is one of several new bonus features — including more behind-the-scenes footage from the making of one of Disney’s most popular animated features — in the new “signature edition” of The Lion King, which will arrive August 15 on Digital HD and two weeks later on Blu-ray (August 29).
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