A 'Lion King' fan favorite was almost fired from the Disney classic

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella made fans around the world — as well as sweet music together — voicing wastrels Timon and Pumbaa, respectively, in Disney’s 1994 animated favorite The Lion King. But, according to co-director Rob Minkoff, one of those actors was almost jettisoned from the jungle during the film’s production.

“We almost had to lose Ernie Sabella,” Minkoff told Yahoo Movies during a Facebook Live interview promoting the film’s new Signature Edition home release (watch above). “We did our first session, we cut it together, we played it and the jokes didn’t land.”

“It wasn’t his fault, it was completely our fault. So after the meeting, the [executives] were disappointed about it, and said, ‘Maybe we should look to recast him.”

Sabella, now 67, is a theatrically trained character actor who was better known for his work on Broadway and television than his film work at the time. He had appeared in some small capacity in virtually every ’80s show, including Newhart, Knots Landing, Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Cheers, Benson, Perfect Strangers, Married… With Children, Mr. Belvedere, Quantu Leap, and Coach. He also memorably played Leon Carosi on the summer episodes of Saved by the Bell and “Naked Man” in Seinfeld.

However, Minkoff was determined not to lose Sabella, given how well Lane and Sabella (then co-starring on Broadway in a hit revival of Guys and Dolls) played off of one other as the meerkat and warthog who duet on the film’s infectious “Hakuna Matata.”

“I put in a pitch and said please give us a second chance, because I think he’s gonna be great, and Ernie and Nathan are so good together,” the filmmaker explained. “So they said, ‘OK, take another swing at it.’ And then the next scene that we played went over like gangbusters, and everybody realized that they were great together. So we almost lost him.”

Another fun fact: Sabella ad-libbled Pumbaa’s flatulence, which became the creature’s signature.

The Lion King‘s Signature Edition Blu-ray and Combo Pack is available Tuesday.

Watch our full Facebook Live interview:

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